As eloquently stated by the venerable wildlife biologist Aldo Leopold, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land”. Arguably, there is no greater embodiment of this truth than that found on the family farms and ranches of the Texas Panhandle.

 

Since the days of Charles Goodnight, farmers and ranchers of the Texas Panhandle have relied on the land for their income, as well as using its natural resources and beauty to strengthen friendships and the bonds of family. Unsurprisingly, every fall you can find the folks of the Texas Panhandle heading out to hunt dove, quail and pheasant with their friends and family.

The ultimate goal for good land management is to maximize the “harmony between men and land” that Leopold spoke of, said Dr. James B. Johnson, assistant professor at West Texas A&M University. This is the objective behind a management project with Dr. Johnson, his graduate student Garrett Gill, and a local landowner, Dr. Sam Bass. The project aims to showcase management practices that benefit upland game birds while maintaining a profitable agricultural investment.

“We are at a very early stage, but we hope to create a showcase for landowners to see management practices which will benefit their bird populations as well as their bottom-line,” said Dr. Johnson. “Our approach is to try different techniques which have worked elsewhere and see how useful they are in the Texas Panhandle.”

Johnson, Gill and Bass are hoping to be able to demonstrate affordable alternatives for landowners to increase the amount of birds on their property while maintaining use of the land. These alternatives include concepts such as crop rotations, crop combinations, and managing the land for proper vegetation cover. Through these practices, along with proper water management, they are hoping to note an increase in game bird abundance.

“The primary focus of this project is on dove, but quail and pheasant are also being considered,” Gill said. “Our methods for estimating the abundance of each species are both from traditional surveying methods and the use of game cameras. We are also attempting to showcase the diversity of resources available to land owners such as universities, federal and state agencies, and non-governmental organizations such as the Texas Dove Hunters Association.”

In 2017, TDHA contacted West Texas A&M to assist in a joint project with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to study a habitat beneficial to dove, quail and pheasant without negatively affecting any of the three. The real challenge is to enhance each of the three bird populations while also restoring parts of the land back to native habitat.

“Dove prefer to eat seed on barren ground and only account about one percent of their diet to insects, just the opposite of quail and pheasant,” said Bob Thornton of TDHA. This has led to the planting of natives and seed crops in certain areas, native grasses for cover in others, as well as some pollinators in other locations.

West Texas A&M, TDHA and NRCS have all contributed to not only the plan for the property, but the goals of the study with the intent of publishing a documented study of the region that can be used by many other land owners in the panhandle.

BY GARRETT GILL