What Really Happened to the Quail Population?

I recently read an opinion article from Outdoor Life called What Happened to our Quail? Observations From an Old Quail Hunter. It was authored by Gordon Jones, M.D. Here is the link to the article:

The article is basically his opinion of what happened to the quail population in Texas. His reason for the quail numbers decreasing is the use of herbicides. He believes the herbicides reduce the amount of seeds available for the quail to eat.  This shouldn't be a total surprise because one reason to use herbicides is to reduce the seed bank in agricultural fields. 

I won't repeat the entire article, you can view the link. What I'm getting at is that I don't think the author knows as much about pesticides as he thinks he does. He says that herbicides kill insects and can harm humans. Well, not exactly. Herbicides kill plants. Insecticides kill insects. Herbicides cannot kill insects. Maybe it was a typo on his part. I don't know. I will admit there are a few herbicides that can harm humans. But for the most part, those herbicides are not used anymore. Some of the comments on the webpage were bashing Roundup for being toxic and harmful and wiping out fields, when in fact Roundup is one of, if not, the safest herbicides farmers use. Its mode of action is an amino acid inhibitor. More specifically it is an EPSP inhibitor. I won't bore you with the details of that, but what Roundup inhibits only exists in plants! Also, the farmers of today are much smarter about their herbicide use. You might have heard of "Farmer Logic." That is, if x lbs of atrazine per acre will kill weeds good, then 2x lbs per acre will be even better. Those high, probably off label rates can contribute to runoff into streams and could potentially contaminate surface waters. However, research has indicated that lower rates of atrazine can actually increase the herbicide efficacy and reduces runoff potential. Farmers are realizing this and practicing it!

Now don't get me wrong, I wish I had more quail around to hunt. I love to eat quail. I love hunting quail.  One of my best hunting experiences was hunting quail with my dad. We started out walking on a cold brisk mid-morning hunt with our two labs, Blackie and Jade. A fair amount of walking was involved. We saw a couple different coveys and ended up with 6 birds total. We each shot 3 times and never missed. The dogs worked like professionals in flushing and retrieving. It was about as good a quail hunt as I've ever been on. My point is, I like quail hunting as much as the next guy. But I also like to eat. I can't shoot enough quail to live off of each year. The world can't be fed on shooting quail. The world needs proper herbicide use to raise enough food.  By 2050, there will be about 9 billion people on Earth.  We need genetically engineered crops and herbicides in order to feed the mouths of the world.  (Here's an interesting tidbit: For those that say that all herbicides are unnatural, just take a look at the herbicide known as Callisto, or active ingredient mesotrione. It was actually discovered from a tree that didn't have anything growing under it.  A scientist noticed this and looked for the reason.  They found the tree was putting out its own natural chemical for defense against competing plants). 

He mentioned his frustration with Quail Unlimited because they won't spray their plots with herbicides.  He thought if they sprayed the areas, they would find that herbicides were hurting quail.  What I think he fails to realize is most of the time there isn't a need for a herbicide application on a wildlife area.  Why kill the plants that the quail use for a habitat?  

One way that herbicide usage could impact quail has to do with the efficiency of farming.  Technology has advanced so much over the years that farmers are able to produce more food.  They are able to get more done in the same time.  Wouldn't you if you could?  There are pastures that are ripped up to make crop fields so that more wheat, corn, soybeans, etc can be grown.  The habitats are getting somewhat smaller in that case.  Urbanization has also taken away good wildlife habitats.  There are so many reasons that could contribute.

Also, the purpose of this post was not to suggest to people to bash and rail against the author. I don't think he necessarily has a political agenda or anything against herbicides. I think he is just a hunter that longs for the quail population of years past.  Maybe there are more reasons for the declining quail population. Maybe the quail are going through a rough patch right now. Who really knows?


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