Over the past decade, Texas ranchers and hunters have watched the quail population drop dramatically in numbers.
“Texas used to offer some of the best quality quail hunting around, but over the past 20 years we have all watched them slowly disappear from where they once thrived,” Commissioner of Texas Parks and Wildlife Ralph Duggins said.
With quail populations dwindling, a group of former Texas Tech University graduates decided to take matters into their own hands. That group approached Texas Tech with their idea of starting a five-year quail conservation research project right here in West Texas. Charles Hodges, Texas Tech graduate, is a co-founder of the Dallas-based non-profit organization, Quail First.
“It just made sense,” Hodges said. “With my passion for quail hunting and my alma mater, Texas Tech would be the perfect place to conduct the Quail-Tech Alliance research project.”
With the cooperation of Texas Tech, Hodges and his associates received their wish and in January 2010, the Quail-Tech Alliance was organized. The five-year research project utilizes 41 different counties and over 22 million acres of land to work with. To date, the Quail-Tech Alliance is the largest research area for quail in the country.
While the primary objective of the project is to discover the reasoning behind the diminishing quail populations in Texas, the research project is also trying to restore the quail’s natural habitat so that quail can thrive like they once did all over Texas.
The goal for the research study is to have at least one anchor ranch in each of the 41 counties. Several counties already have involvement by multiple ranches that include some of the historical ranches in West Texas to work with during the five-year study. Participating ranches include the Pitchfork Ranch, W. T. Waggoner Ranch, Mill Iron Ranch and the 6666 Ranch.
All of the ranches involved in the Quail-Tech Alliance were asked to donate $3,500 each year for the five-year study. Those funds will help supply the research team with the adequate equipment needed to perform the research project. The Quail-Tech Alliance also received donations from other organizations, including the Burnett Foundation, who contributed valuable equipment that includes pick up trucks and other all-terrain vehicles.
All of the ranches have been enthusiastic about participating with the research project for many reasons. The ranchers enjoy quail hunting themselves and were concerned about the declining quail populations on their own ranches and across the state of Texas. The ranchers hope to increase the quail population through the research project to enhance the property value of their land.
“With the early success the Quail-Tech Alliance has already achieved, about one ranch per week has contacted Texas Tech with hopes of being included in the research,” Hodges said.
The Quail-Tech Alliance is led by research project director and associate chairman of the Department of Natural Resources Management, Brad Dabbert. He is part of a six-man field team that is in charge of actually conducting the research on the anchor ranches. Dabbert’s team will perform population assessments, trap quail and conduct blood and DNA sampling to collect data to further prevent the spread of disease in quail.
In the early stages of the research project, Quail-Tech Alliance has been able to trap the first wild quail possessing the antibodies for the West Nile virus. This particular quail was trapped on one of the anchor ranches in the Panhandle region of Texas. Now that the team has confirmed a quail with antibodies for the West Nile virus, they have proof that this particular quail has come in contact with West Nile at some point in its life. This could be the break that the research team has been looking for. Although the quail did not have a full blown case of West Nile, this doesn’t mean that there are not quail that do contain the RNA strand of the virus. Controlling mosquito populations is one of the many ways to help stop the spreading of harmful viruses in quail such as West Nile.
With the collection of blood and DNA samples, the research team hopes to discover the reason for diseases spreading such as West Nile and Avian Flu within quail populations. If they are able to find the source behind these diseases, it will allow us to find ways to hopefully prevent the diseases from ever occurring within quail populations. This could lead to a healthier quail population in all of Texas. At the moment, there are more than 400 trapped quail that have been tested for antibodies for the West Nile virus and other diseases.
The Quail-Tech Alliance was created by hunters to benefit the hunters need for a more sustainable quail population. After the five-year research has been completed, the hope is that they will have collected enough data and knowledge, which will enable quail populations to grow at a more rapid rate. With quail numbers increasing, it will allow land owners and hunters to both enjoy the beautiful sights and sounds of Bobwhite and Scaled Quail. Not only are quail tasty to eat, but there is something special about hearing a large covey of quail flush from underneath the brush right at your feet.
The Quail-Tech Alliance has been a success so far and has already created great excitement for all of those involved. It has also given Texas Tech alumni something to take pride in now that Texas Tech is striving to do their part to help save the diminishing quail populations in Texas.
Through this program, Texas Tech is establishing itself as a first class research institute and will hopefully no longer be referred to as just another college in the state of Texas, but as one of the premier research institutes in the country.