National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI)
NBCI is a landscape-level, habitat-based approach to the restoration of wild bobwhite quail that represents the combined efforts of 25 state wildlife agencies, as well as various research institutions and private conservation groups.
Originally developed and published as a paper plan in 2002 by members of the Southeastern Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA), the new “NBCI 2.0” is a larger, more intensive effort by 25 states unveiled in 2011 under the auspices of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee. It is embraced not only by SEAFWA but also the Midwest Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, the Northeast Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies and the national Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies.
Essentially a range-wide prescription for bobwhite recovery, NBCI 2.0 includes a thorough update and analysis of the bobwhite’s situation range-wide, identifies 195 million acres of priority landscapes where bobwhite and grasslands conservation have a relatively high potential of success, and identifies specific management actions necessary for those acres to achieve respective state bobwhite population goals. The plan also identifies specific policy-level constraints to success, such as use of prescribed fire, changes in agricultural field management practices, the conversion of invasive exotic grasses such as fescue to native, warm-season grasses, and altering certain forest management practices detrimental to bobwhites and other species.
NBCI 2.0 includes a massive database with an array of custom digital applications – the NBCI Conservation Planning Tool (CPT) – that helps bobwhite biologists quickly analyze habitat prospects at bird conservation region (BCR), state, county or sub-county levels, and plan and implement projects for the greatest return on investment. NBCI is funded primarily by the states, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and Southern Company, and has its official headquarters at the University of Tennessee.
Because of the way land was used, bobwhites were once very abundant across farms and open forests from the Midwest and Southwest to the deep South and northeast. Today, along with many grassland/shrub bird species, bobwhites are in serious decline. But the decline has become much more precipitous since the 1960’s (see Figure 1 below). Population losses over the past 25 years range from 60 to 90 percent in many states in the bobwhite range. In Georgia, for example, over 4 million wild quail were harvested annually in the early 1960’s, yet today barely 400,000 are harvested and only a small portion of those are wild birds.
Land use changes and subsequent habitat destruction is the reason for these landscape-level declines in bobwhites. The tax-subsidized conversion of native grasses to exotic grasses in agricultural operations is one primary reason, but so too is the higher intensity of agricultural operations and “clean farming” overall that became the mantra of agriculture in the ‘60’s. Other land use shifts include monoculture forest management and the lack of active, purposeful forest management for wildlife and/or ecosystem preservation, urban/suburban development and the near elimination of beneficial fire from the landscape.
The good news is that bobwhite populations still exist in sufficient numbers across significant portions of their range such that they will respond, in time, to sound, targeted habitat initiatives. In fact, NBCI estimates that if its habitat management goals were to be fully implemented across the 195 million acres it has identified as “priority” landscapes, 4.6 million additional coveys – or more than 55 million birds – would be added to the bobwhite population.
Specific NBCI priorities include:
- Reconnecting agriculture with quail by influencing federal agricultural policy to be less harmful and more helpful for native grassland habitat conservation in agricultural and other rural landscapes;
- Reconnecting cows with quail by developing technologies for native grass-based beef production, accelerating the adoption of native forages, improving public policy for native grassland restoration, and sustaining quality western rangelands;
- Reconnecting forests with quail by reinvigorating aggressive, purposeful forest management on private and public lands to achieve landscape-scale restoration of native forest savannahs, and by reestablishing prescribed fire as an accepted, widespread and frequently used management tool;
- Developing central information services to help states and partners document, monitor, and publicize progress and successes, and build a stronger collective movement.
- Mobilizing key constituencies to support local, state and national efforts for bobwhite and native grasslands conservation;
- Connecting mine lands with quail by engaging and collaborating with the full range mine land interests to promote land restoration outcomes that benefit bobwhites and other grassland wildlife.
For more detail on the initiative, the habitat requirements for bobwhites and regional challenges in restoring wild bobwhites, go to the full NBCI 2.0 document at
For more detail on NBCI please visit http://bringbackbobwhites.org/newsroom/fact-sheets/doc_details/36-nbci-overview and for more on NBCI accomplishments please visit http://bringbackbobwhites.org/newsroom/fact-sheets/doc_details/35-nbci-accomplishments-milestones