Conservation Officers Report
Many who visit the Conservation Park of Virginia are not aware that along with the shooting facilities centered around the clubhouse, the club also owns over 1400 acres of magnificent woods, fields, and wetlands that stretch along the southern shores of the Chickahominy River.
These acres are home to a teeming community of wildlife. One species of wildlife that has been of special interest at the Park has been the Northern Bobwhite quail. The sharp decrease in numbers of this species at the Park and throughout the state of Virginia has been under intense study for a number of years. There are a variety of reasons for the decline, one of the greatest being loss of habitat. Gone are the thick, tangled hedgerows bordering farm fields and wood edges that provided protection and feed for these ground-nesting birds. Many farmland areas that were prime habitat for quail are now unbroken stretches of houses and strip malls.
When the Park was established, the Board of Directors realized that with proper restoration and management, large areas of the Park could become perfect habitat for the bobwhite, and steps were taken to initiate the program.
Jim Harris, a veteran Park member, was elected Vice President and Conservation Officer. Jim worked closely with many state officials to determine what needed to be done and began an aggressive campaign to provide the conditions needed to propagate quail. It was a huge undertaking requiring planting, burning, spraying, and many other types of land management. Jim did it all.
He plowed, disced, planted, and did everything needed to get the quail restoration project started. Along with those duties, he experimented with crop planting attractive to other wildlife. Jim's tireless work on these projects for almost 10 years paid off. There was a noticeable increase in bobwhite numbers and habitat improvement of great benefit to other wildlife.
Sadly, Jim's health began to fail about four years ago and he could no longer do all those special jobs to maintain the habitat and keep the program going. Jim died in 2009, and without his work and guidance, a corresponding decline in the quail population occurred.
I was elected to the position of Conservation Officer in 2009. Little did I realize what a colossal job I had in front of me. But with the help and advice of many, we began to devise a plan of restoration. We had hoped to get everything underway in the spring of 2010, but a combination of drought, high winds, and many days of wild weather, along with crowded schedules of those involved in the effort, prevented us from realizing our goals that spring. Consequently, the project did not get underway until 2011.
Throughout the winter months of 2011, Todd Englemeyer, Biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, outlined a specific plan for what needed to be done, what kind of conditions should be created in the Park, and what areas would be best to include in the project. He determined that the 20 acres behind the skeet fields would be most suitable.
The Virginia Department of Forestry expertise was solicited to supervise the controlled burning necessary to eradicate the scrubby growth that had invaded the area. During the early spring Park Manager Kevin Key created the fire lines to carefully outline what areas should be burned. By mid-March everything was ready and the controlled burn was conducted March 14, 2011. Shannon Wheeler, David Ratliff, and other employees from the Smurfit-Stone Mill in West Point volunteered as the burn crew in return for an agreement to hunt deer on the Park land. Will Shoup, Forester for the Virginia Forestry Department, served as burn boss and Paul Reier, also of the Forestry Department, helped contain the fire lines. Mr. Shoup made arrangements for aerial spraying in August to eradicate many invasive ground-cover plants that were unsuitable for quail habitat. He created a manual of habitat management , a copy of which is available at the clubhouse. Park Manager Kevin Key's assistance was invaluable in coordinating all the above procedures. It is noteworthy how quickly the bobwhites returned to the area once it had been restored. By June, bobwhites were already beginning to reappear in greater numbers and young were observed on several occasions during bird surveys.
This is an ongoing program that will be monitored closely. Upgrades and changes will be made as necessary and it is hoped that we can see a steady increase in bobwhite numbers as time goes on.
There is much to be said of the Park's flora and fauna and what we can do to preserve and protect it. Watch this page for future stories of wildlife and conservation information. Contact me if you wish to help!