Letters From the West

Canyon County Quail Forever chapter could help enrich our valley

California Quail (Idao Department of Fish and Game photo)

California Quail (Idaho Department of Fish and Game photo)

So much of my attention as environmental reporter focuses on the species on the edges, I sometimes lose track of the other wildlife and fish that enrich our lives.

From sage grouse to salmon, to wolves and grizzly bears, my coverage often misses the wildlife in our own backyard.

That means it falls on Outdoors Editor Roger Phillips or reporter Pete Zimowsky to keep track of the game animals and the song birds that share our Idaho landscape.

But I wrote the “Wingshooter’s Guide to Idaho,” along with co-author Ken Retallic. And the research for that book – which the rest of you call “hunting” – took me into some of Idaho’s agrarian Edens, from Canyon County to Payette and Gem. With my grandson Alex joining the hunting ranks, we chased pheasants and ducks last fall, kicking a few quail to boot.

But you don’t have to be a hunter or even go far to enjoy the whistle of the California quail in southwest Idaho. These birds fill my yard from spring through winter, signaling the richness of our river valley homeland.

Now a group of Idahoans are organizing to enhance the habitat of these colorful birds with distinctive head plumes – along with pheasants, which also benefit. Canyon County’s Quail Forever chapter is raising funds to improve habitat and to leverage that money with volunteer efforts that will help many birds, animals and landowners alike.

“Each year, our chapter would like to pick a sizable piece of land in our area and leverage funds with other groups to make significant habitat improvements,” said Pat Cudmore, its president.

This year, the chapter will raise funds for a new irrigation system on the Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area near Parma, where the Boise River runs into the Snake. Fort Boise is an area visited by thousands of residents, both hunters and bird watchers.

I remember when former Idaho Fish and Game Director Rod Sando proposed using modern conservation biology landscape management to improve pheasant hunting in Idaho. It’s a big task requiring enormous collaboration since most of the habitat for pheasant and quail is on private land.

But by ensuring places that meet the birds’ habitat needs over an entire landscape, their populations can grow and thrive along with the farmers who share the land.

Sando’s model was South Dakota, long a mecca for pheasant hunters. Canyon County, with its long riparian greenbelts along the Snake and Boise River and the Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge, has such potential.

Farmers there also want to preserve the farmland on which they depend from development. This lays the foundation for a collaborative effort that can benefit all.

Perhaps they can tap into the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Innovation Grant program, which funds projects that demonstrate new ways to conserve resources on agricultural lands. It has $150,000 in a competitive statewide grant program.

Pre-proposal applications are due to the Idaho NRCS State Office by 4 p.m. on April 25.

“It offers an opportunity for organizations or individuals to get funding for one- to three-year projects that work on solutions to specific agricultural-related resource problems,” said Jeff Burwell, Idaho NRCS state conservationist.

Add Quail Forever, and there now exists a voice around which hunters and others can organize. If you are interested in the group contact Cudmore at 208-859-6275.

For the grant contact Denise Adkins at 208-685-6991.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West