Rocky Barker: Collaboration can start in our backyard

rbarker@idahostatesman.comApril 7, 2014 

So much of my attention as an environmental reporter focuses on the species on the edges that I sometimes lose track of the other wildlife and fish that enrich our lives.

With a focus on sage grouse and salmon, wolves and grizzly bears, my coverage often misses the wildlife in our own backyard.

That means it falls on Statesman Outdoors Editor Roger Phillips or reporter Pete Zimowsky to keep track of the game animals and the songbirds that share our Idaho landscape.

But not always. I wrote the "Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho" along with co-author Ken Retallic. The research for that book - which the rest of you call "hunting" - took me to some of Idaho's agrarian Edens, including Canyon, Payette and Gem counties. With my grandson Alex having joined the hunting ranks, we chased pheasants and ducks last fall, kicking up a few quail to boot.

But you don't have to be a hunter or even go far to enjoy the whistle of the California quail in Southwest Idaho. These birds fill my yard from spring through winter, signaling the richness of our river valley homeland.

Now a group of Idahoans is organizing to enhance the habitat of these colorful birds with distinctive head plumes, as well as pheasants. Canyon County's Quail Forever chapter is raising funds to improve habitat and to leverage the money with volunteer efforts that will help birds, animals and landowners alike.

"Each year, our chapter would like to pick a sizable piece of land in our area and leverage funds with other groups to make significant habitat improvements," said Pat Cudmore, the county chapter president.

This year, the chapter will raise funds for a new irrigation system on the Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area near Parma, where the Boise River runs into the Snake. That first Fort Boise was a Hudson's Bay trading post until the 1850s. It's an area visited by thousands of residents, hunters and bird-watchers.

I remember when former Idaho Fish and Game Director Rod Sando proposed using modern conservation biology landscape management to improve pheasant hunting in Idaho. It's a big task requiring enormous collaboration, since most of the habitat for pheasant and quail is on private land.

But by ensuring good habitat over an entire landscape, bird populations can grow and thrive along with the farmers who share the land.

Sando's model was South Dakota, long a mecca for pheasant hunters. Canyon County, with its long riparian areas along the Snake and Boise rivers and the Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge, has such potential.

Farmers there also want to preserve from development the farmland on which they depend. This lays the foundation for a collaborative effort that can benefit all.

Perhaps they can tap into the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Conservation Innovation Grant program, which funds projects that demonstrate new ways to conserve resources on agricultural lands. It has $150,000 in a competitive statewide grant program. Pre-proposal applications are due to the Idaho NRCS State Office by April 25.

"It offers an opportunity for organizations or individuals to get funding for one- to three-year projects that work on solutions to specific agricultural-related resource problems," said Jeff Burwell, Idaho NRCS state conservationist.

Interested in the grant? Call Denise Adkins at 685-6991.

Add Quail Forever, and there now exists a group around which hunters and others can organize. If you are interested in the group, call Cudmore at 859-6275.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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