Habitat & Conservation  |  03/02/2024

USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie Announces Northern Bobwhite Quail Pilot Project


Historic investment will provide dedicated funding to bobwhite habitat conservation

Today, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary Robert Bonnie announced a new national initiative to advance private lands conservation for the northern bobwhite quail, as well as for grasslands across the east-central United States. The Northern Bobwhite Pilot Project (NBPP) will dedicate funding specifically to bobwhite quail habitat, creating an unprecedented investment in the species’ future. The announcement came as part of Bonnie’s remarks at the 2024 National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. 
“The USDA has a long track record of fostering and supporting the vital relationship between agriculture and conservation, and the new Northern Bobwhite Pilot Project helps our producers be good stewards of their lands and boost wildlife populations at the same time,” Bonnie said. “These efforts demonstrate the power of USDA’s Farm Bill conservation programs to conserve wildlife habitat, protect clean water and address climate change in partnership with farmers, ranchers, forest owners and conservation organizations, like Quail Forever, across the country.”   
The Northern Bobwhite Pilot Project, offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through Working Lands for Wildlife, provides dedicated funding of $13 million – for fiscal year 2024 – in new assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. This is for producers to help the bobwhite and other game and non-game species by managing their working lands for early successional habitat while meeting their lands natural resource and production goals.  
“We’re incredibly excited to celebrate the Northern Bobwhite Pilot Project,” said Marilyn Vetter, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s president and CEO. “This initiative sets up dedicated funding for the conservation of northern bobwhite habitat for the first time ever. It makes them a priority species — and that kind of investment can lead to monumental improvement in bobwhite populations across the nation. Quail Forever will be there every step of the way, alongside our partners, to help ensure the bobwhite quail continues to expand its range and thrive across the United States.”
“The NBPP is a surge of financial support from NRCS urgently needed to augment habitat conservation efforts underway by our USDA state offices, state wildlife agencies and NGOs,” said Bridgett Estel Costanzo, the NRCS working lands for wildlife east-central coordinator. “Despite significant past investments, northern bobwhite have continued on a 30-year decline. Working Lands for Wildlife is collaborating with Quail Forever, UGA’s Gamebird and Managed Ecosystems Lab, and the larger network of partners to enhance our strategic delivery and invest in science that will lead to a new ability to track progress toward restoring key habitats and declining wildlife communities.”
The Northern Bobwhite Pilot Project supports the 5-year, 7-million-acre goal of the Working Lands for Wildlife Northern Bobwhite, Grasslands and Savannas Framework for Conservation Action unveiled in 2022 by USDA. Recently, NRCS expanded the Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities that qualify for funding through the Inflation Reduction Act. Those funds will also be critical to Working Lands for Wildlife’s success in reaching its long-term goals. 
NRCS accepts applications year-round for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Interested producers from eligible states should contact the NRCS at their local USDA Service Center. For help enrolling in habitat conservation programs or to learn more about Quail Forever in your area, contact your local biologist here.