The following question asks about TPWD's decisions (final and pending) regarding quail hunting regulations:
"The paper said that TPWD might change [quail] hunting regulations. Now I read they are consulting with scientists instead (is that you?). What does it mean that quail hunting does not impact quail on a landscape level?" F.O. - Wise County
Great questions. Texas' Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has been asked, by members of their Quail Roundtable Board, to look into reducing the quail hunting season length and bag limit. I was present when the request was made. The original idea was to close hunting in East Texas where hunting could decimate small, isolated, seed populations that could be crucial to quail restoration efforts by local landowners and biologists.
As a result, TPWD decided to re-evaluate their quail hunting regulations across the state. They listened to scientists (I was present), landowners, and special interest groups; ultimately deciding that they would not change any quail hunting regulations for the 2012-2013 season. TPWD is collecting more information before deciding on regulations for future seasons.
What this means: TPWD looks at quail populations from a statewide level. If you kill all the quail on your property (assuming you have property with quail), you will have driven the quail extinct on a ranch-level (small scale). Your actions would have a small to moderate impact on the regional or landscape level, and would have no real impact on the statewide population (very large scale). Texas Parks and Wildlife looks at wildlife on a large, state level.
From their point of view, regulating quail hunting would not have any impact on the large-scale quail population. They also don't want to send a message that quail hunting is causing the quail decline on a statewide level (although it certainly could negatively impact small quail populations on a ranch level).
I don't speak for TPWD but have sat in on some of the advisory boards. I think the intent of the request was genuine. Some areas, with small quail populations, can't handle much hunting pressure. This is especially true during drought years.
A good group of scientists from South Texas (Hernandez et al. 2005) wrote a scientific journal article titled "Influence of precipitation on demographics of northern bobwhites in southern Texas." It's a good paper that concludes, "Further, our data suggest that drought negatively impacts bobwhite reproductive effort such that harvest should be reduced or ceased during drought (e.g., <50 cm annual precipitation)."
If anyone is looking for an "X factor" causing the quail decline, heat during drought is the best candidate in areas with quail habitat. It would be wise for landowners to limit quail hunting during drought years and for 2 years following. In no way do I think quail hunting should cease (I'm a quail hunter with a bird dog and young son), but I do think the message needs to be more widely dispersed that we need to limit harvest during drought periods.
A good rule of thumb, used successfully in GA, FL, and some parts of TX, is that you shouldn't harvest more than 20% of the quail population in good years. This percentage should be reduced in drought years (0-10%). For this to work, quail populations must be properly monitored, which isn't happening in much of the state. This would also be a regulation nightmare for TPWD. The best effort would likely be to adjust the bag limit and season length during drought years and the 2 years following. This would be similar, although different, to setting the waterfowl regulations. Thanks for your question.