Justice pushes quail reintroduction program for West Virginia

LOGAN, W.Va. — Governor Jim Justice and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources hopes we’ll soon hear the sweet strains of “Bob White” whistling across the hills and hollows of southern West Virginia again. This past week the West Virginia DNR released just under 50 quail in two areas of southern West Virginia in an effort to gauge whether a wide scale reintroduction is possible.

“This is a study on 48 birds. We radio collared 30 of them and we really want to see what the mortality is going to be,” said DNR Director Steve McDaniel.

48 quail have been released, 30 with radio tracking devices to see how they survive a gauntlet of predators on the Tomblin WMA

The quail were caught in the wild by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and sent to West Virginia as payment on a trade deal for some eastern wild turkeys provided by West Virginia. Former DNR Director Frank Jezioro announced the deal with Texas back in 2014. At the time it was an arrangement to broker the quail to the state of Kentucky for elk. The original deal seems to have fallen through, but Texas still owed West Virginia the quail. Governor Jim Justice liked the idea of putting them back on the West Virginia landscape.

“It’s true we’ve been working with Texas and providing them with turkeys for several years. I’ve taken the Governor through the Elk Reintroduction area and we’ve been talking about the quail program. When he saw what we’ve already done on the Tomblin WMA, he said, ‘This is the place.'” said McDaniel.

It’s unclear how many more quail Texas owes West Virginia in the arrangement. Capturing the birds in the Lone Star State hasn’t been easy. During the past three years the availability of wild birds was nearly non-existent due to a severe drought.

Wildlife managers and the DNR staff have worked to create ditch lines and thick cover for the birds over the past couple of years according to the Director. The program has also been engaged in planting various seed bearing grasses to provide adequate food for the quail.

Once abundant on the West Virginia landscape quail started to disappear as farms with acres and acres of buckwheat, rye, and barley started to fade into the distance. Quail existence is made doubly hard in the Mountain State by an abundance of predators which weren’t around in the same numbers in the 1950’s and 60’s. Hawks, owls, and eagles now create death from above. On the ground, it’s an equal horror show for the birds with coyotes, bobcats, and and foxes all on the prowl for easy pickings. Just how easy is one of the things the DNR hopes to learn in the radio telemetry study.

“There are a lot of predators and that’s why we’ve been working to establish some good ground cover. So far, they’ve responded really well. We’re five days into this and we’ve only lost a few. Biologists tell me the first two weeks is the real test to see how they do. So far so good,” said McDaniel.

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