HOLDEN, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia wildlife officials are hoping to bring back the bobwhite quail, which disappeared from the state in the late 1970s thanks to a combination of habitat destruction and harsh winters.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports wildlife officials think the birds are a good candidate for reintroduction at the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area — a 32,000 acre tract of former surface-mined land in Logan and Mingo counties acquired by the state Division of Natural Resources in 2015.
Quail need grassland and brushland to survive, and Tomblin has an extensive mosaic of grassy savannas that are a byproduct of the mine-reclamation process.
The agency reintroduced elk to the area in 2016. Now they are working to make a suitable habitat for quail.
"We noticed we were lacking in brood-rearing habitat," said Wildlife Manager Logan Klingler. "A lot of the land here is covered with sericea lespedea, which is not good habitat for any kind of wildlife."
To thin out the dense growth, Klingler and his coworkers have sprayed sericea-infested fields with an herbicide designed to kill the invasive plant but leave other, more beneficial plants and grasses. In other areas, DNR workers have simply bulldozed undesirable vegetation and replaced it with clover, winter wheat and cold-season grasses, which provide good habitat for young quail.
To add food variety for the birds, Klingler said he wants to plant warm-season grasses like switchgrass, little bluestem and big bluestem.
Klingler also plans to plant blackberries as a place for the quail to escape predators.
"The blackberry bushes will grow up and form hedgerows that break up the big fields and provide great escape cover for quail," he said.
Wildlife officials have a tentative agreement with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to trade wild turkeys, which West Virginia has in abundance, for wild quail.
The earliest the birds could arrive would be next spring. Even then, they will be kept off limits to hunters until a self-sustaining population is established.
Klingler is optimistic about the project.
"We think we're going to have some really nice quail habitat here," he said. "At the moment we're working on about 50 acres. Eventually, we'd like to have about 500."