Open Hunting Season on Montezuma Quail Not Wise for Texas
Terry Maxwell, March 16, 2003, San Angelo Standard Times, © 2003
Hunting has not always had good press. For an extreme example, take the prehistoric overkill hypothesis offered to explain the large mammal extinctions at the end of the Wisconsin glacial period 11,000 – 10,000 years ago. Were early North American peoples responsible for the loss of mammoths and ancient bison species? Perhaps - the evidence is not clear.
Closer to our time, the rise of wildlife management and environmental ethics, fathered by Aldo Leopold, were pushed by loss of wildlands and excessive hunting that decimated game populations in the first half of the 20th century. Leopold taught us that with knowledge of species’ biology can come management of habitat and regulation of hunting pressure. We then can have both the sport of hunting and nonconsumptive enjoyment of wildlife well into the future.
But despite the application of Leopold’s philosophy by state and federal game management agencies, hunting appears to be in sharp decline in our society. At the beginning of this new millennium, reportedly only 10 percent of hunters are in the age group of 18 to 24, down 14 percent from 1991.
Some have blamed cultural urbanization, but then others point outthat even rural kids spend a lot of their time at computerized play stations and television sets. Others point out a growing change in attitude about nature. Rising human populations with loss of plant and animal habitats have become associated with attitudes of protectionism and nonconsumptive uses of wildlife.
So, what are hunters’ options for countering this downward trend in their beloved sport? And let me state clearly that I am a proponent of responsible hunting, however little of it I actually do. I have fond memories – amazingly - of a goose hunt on the Texas coastal plain, a hunt in which I embarrassed myself by unintentionally letting every goose in my sights escape Scott-free. That sport takes real skill.
Well, my point today is that I don’t have even a few ideas to help improve hunting’s plight - except for one. Do not go out of the way to give yourselves more bad press in this nature protectionist time by proposing to hunt remnant species for which basic natural history and population level are so poorly known as to make guesswork out of management decisions.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife agency is proposing Amendment 65.62 to the state wildlife regulations. Recommendations will be made to the TPW Commission at their meeting in the first week of April. We now are in the period of public comment on the proposed amendment.
The agency proposes to open the hunting season on Montezuma (Mearn’s) Quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae), allowing a daily bag limit of two birds. Their reasons are to protect hunters of other quail species who unintentionally kill Montezumas and to give hunters an opportunity to bag all 4 quail species native to Texas.
Those reasons, presumably, will not be offered to allow hunters to bag all native columbids in Texas (including red-billed and band-tailed pigeons) or get away with mistaking nongame sandpiper species for snipe. Responsible hunting involves not pulling the trigger on what you cannot identify.
More importantly, the best current information indicates that Montezuma Quail are reduced to remnant populations in four Edwards Plateau counties and in several mountain ranges in the Trans-Pecos. The distribution has been declining for over 100 years. The cause of the decline is not in dispute - it isn’t hunting. Habitat degradation (from natural drought or overgraziing) has brought this species down, but even light hunting of the remnants is not going to help,
Furthermore, the species as a whole is poorly understood and practically nothing is known of its natural history in Texas. What is needed, clearly, before the state proposes hunting this quail, is a sound, research-based knowledge of its local population levels, local reproductive rates and covey home ranges under varying environmental conditions, and a host of other facts that will put the agency in a defensible position with regard to such a proposal.
My preference is that this unique Texas quail not be hunted now or in the future. With a season so long closed, Montezuma quail has assumed a nongame stature with the naturalist public, however the department classifies it. Its odd appearance, behavior, and secretiveness have made our "crazy quail" something different – something of a regional protected icon – even to many of the land owners and residents within its range today.
Let’s work on improving northern bobwhite and scaled quail conditions in Texas such that traditional quail hunting of potentially widespread species resumes its former grandeur. If you want to comment on this proposal to hunt Montezuma Quail, write Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Attn: Robert MacDonald, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, Texas 78744; or phone 800-792-1112; or email email@example.com.