Game Land CURE Areas
The original NCWRC-designated CURE Game Lands continue to be managed for early-successional habitats. Additional Game Lands are being managed for early-successional habitats, and discussions are underway about possibly including them in the CURE program. Some CURE Game Lands are intensively managed for bobwhite quail and associated songbirds. Other Game Lands are more suitable for managing habitats for other species. Traditional game species such as deer and wild turkey benefit from this management as well as numerous non-game species such as songbirds, amphibians, reptiles, and even aquatic resources.
Current Private Lands Initiatives
In 2005, NCWRC developed a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). This agreement established NCWRC biologists within NRCS Offices in each of North Carolina’s three geographic regions. The agreement with NRCS placed an emphasis on the promotion of early-successional habitats by both agencies in a partnership approach. Through this relationship, thousands of acres of wildlife habitat are improved each year through programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP).
An additional component of CURE was added in 2005 involving a partnership with corporate agricultural operations in Bladen County. Using grant funds from the North Carolina Department of Justice, NCWRC was able to implement practices designed to improve water quality and enhance early-successional habitat for wildlife. Through time, this work has grown to four counties as additional farms have been added to the program. Currently, over 15,500 acres of private corporate farms are enrolled and represent some of North Carolina’s best early-successional habitat .
The Future Is Tied to Economics
There are two worlds that exist today for early-successional species. In one world, intensive habitat management can and will produce habitat given adequate landowner commitment, finances, and acres. Scores of these areas exist throughout the South, and we have many here in North Carolina. Most of these areas exist because of high profile species such as bobwhite quail. What we should learn from these areas is that there is no mystery about how to produce wildlife dependent on early-successional habitats – the challenge is paying for this over larger areas.
Lands are managed here by farmers, ranchers, and forest owners in ways they believe are economically sound. To address early-successional species in this “Real World”, we are left with two options. One is to directly pay landowners for quality habitat. That has been done to varying degrees in many states, but it is expensive and rarely sustainable over the long-term. Some experts believe this is the future of quail management and the only chance for that species. Time will tell if they are right, and at least we have this option.
There is still hope of another promising option. If adopted, it would be more sustainable over time and benefit more acres, people, and other wildlife species. It involves finding economically sensible alternatives to current land management practices. No-till planting, filter strips on cropland, conversion of sod-forming fescue and Bermuda grass to native bunch grasses, and thinning and burning of woodlands are examples. These practices benefit not just quail but a host of declining wildlife species.
Unfortunately, these and other practices are not common on a high percentage of our landscape. Perhaps we have not identified the right practices or presented the right economic arguments. Clearly, we have a long way to go in terms of reaching out to landowners and developing reasons for them to change standard practices. We must continue to search for more information about economically smart land management alternatives and hope for a little luck along the way.
For quail and associated species to ever recover, Government agencies, quail hunters, songbird enthusiasts, and landowners must all work together to find these economically sensible reasons for private landowners to do things differently. Changes must address practices on crops fields, pastures, and forested lands. It will take a combination of persistence, hard work, and planning for farmland wildlife to once again return to prominence in North Carolina and throughout the South.
Free technical guidance and information is always available. Please call the Wildlife Resources Commission, Division of Wildlife Management at 919-707-0050 if you have questions or need assistance. Prepared by Mark D. Jones, NCWRC Private Lands Program, E-mailed questions about CURE can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.