Putting quail in bigger picture Jayne: Seasonal kill more than hunting

OUTDOORS

February 23, 1993|By PETER BAKER

Quail present an interesting challenge to both the hunter and the wildlife manager, and Peter S. Jayne, leader of Maryland's upland game program, is taking a different look at the bobwhite in Maryland.

Jayne's new look is based on a change in the evaluation of hunters' seasonal kill of quail, using a concept of additive mortality rather than the traditional concept of compensatory mortality.

In simple terms, compensatory mortality is a concept that accepts that a given percentage of quail will not survive the year, regardless of how they are killed -- by weather, disease, natural predators or hunters.

"Sort of a free lunch concept," Jayne said. "The quail you shot today simply could have been lost to another mortality factor tomorrow. So things compensated out by the end of the season.

"The key point is that the population would be unchanged at the end of the season whether you hunted that population or not."

Additive mortality considers the hunting kill to be in addition to natural factors.

"It is a fairly dramatic change in quail management. . ." Jayne said. "Quail have a high turnover rate. On the average a very high percentage die in any given period of time.

"Harvest is just one of the things that drives that high mortality rate. The hunter is just a part of a much bigger picture."

Data from recent studies show that additive mortality does have an impact on how many birds will survive and breed to repopulate the habitat before the next November, when hunting season begins.

"We believe that losses early in the season are still compensated by reduced losses to other mortality factors," said Jayne, adding that normal annual mortality for quail is between 65 and 80 percent. "The losses late in the season aren't always compensated for.

other words, the birds that you shoot in late February can affect what is out there next November. That is the whole basis of what we are proposing to do."

The Wildlife Division of the Department of Natural Resources is proposing to shorten the quail season in Maryland's eastern zone by three weeks during the 1993-94 hunting season.

The proposed change in quail dates would set the season from Nov. 15 to Feb. 7 in areas east of I-83, I-695 and I-95. In areas west of that, excluding Allegany and Garrett counties, the season would run from Nov. 15 to Jan. 15. Allegany and Garrett are closed to quail hunting.

In both areas, the bag limits would be six per day and 12 possession. "We did not make this decision lightly," Jayne said. "The February season for quail is extremely popular.

"It is a good time of year. Most of the other seasons are out, there are fewer distractions keeping the hunter out of the field. But this is something we have looked at for some years."

Jayne said the reduction of the season would focus quail conservation in the best time period -- late winter -- when the birds have survived the worst of weather, disease and predation and are building toward the April breeding season.

Reducing the bag limits through a longer season would not have the same impact as shortening the season, Jayne said, because most hunters average only one bird per trip anyway.

is the timing of the kill that we are concerned about and not the overall kill," Jayne said. "Reducing the bag limit would unnecessarily restrict the take early in the season."

By the end of February, Jayne said, quail have run the gauntlet and their chances of surviving to become a breeder is relatively high.

"The whole problem is that we can't be shooting breeders and not expect to see a decline in the population," Jayne said.

In Maryland, Jayne said, the quail population, when measured by harvest, declined by 82 percent from 1975 to 1990. Quail have declined throughout their range, and not just in Maryland.

Much of the data used in traditional quail management programs, Jayne said, was gathered in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and virtually all of it supported the concept of compensatory mortality.

New methods and technology, however, is coming up with data that do not agree with previous findings.

"This brings up the question," Jayne said, "are we disproving data from past years or are we studying a bird that is substantially different?

"Most quail researchers agree that we are applying these new techniques to a new bird or a bird whose biology has changed primarily because of vastly altered habitat conditions."

Quail today are living in marginal habitat conditions, Jayne said. Where there were five coveys a couple of decades ago, now there might be one or two or none.

As a result of smaller areas of good habitat and fewer numbers of quail, Jayne said, declines in population and reproduction cannot be easily masked by movements from farm to farm or reproduction on an adjacent farm.

"We still believe that habitat is the key to quail abundance," Jayne said. "Over and over we go into places with sound habitat and we find good quail numbers. . . .

"This season reduction is just one card that we can play in what has to be a much bigger game, to try and restore our quail habitat and population."

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