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We've been waiting for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to do more than talk about quail restoration, and it looks like that time is coming.

Over the last two years, the Commission has taken encouraging steps to prioritize upland bird habitat. The agency has reached out to prominent bird hunting enthusiasts like Judge Bill Wilson, former state supreme court justice Jack Holt and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Rex Nelson. It also has hired its first dedicated quail biologist, Marcus Asher.

That's all great, but so far the Commission's efforts have been superficial. As is often the case in government, meetings and symbols substitute for progress.

Apparently, real progress is coming.

In his first meeting as Commission chairman, Steve Cook of Malvern directed the agency's administrative staff to establish an upland bird stamp. If adopted, it will be an additional, elective cost to hunters similar to our state duck stamp or trout stamp.

Such a stamp will accomplish several goals. It will declare the agency's sincerity about restoring and creating native upland habitat. It will also symbolize the bobwhite quail's importance by giving it equal status to waterfowl and trout.

It will also generate money necessary to work with landowners to create, enhance or preserve upland habitat on private property. The Game and Fish Commission has very limited ability to create quail habitat on public property. If quail are going to thrive in this state, it will be on private property.

Chris Colclasure, the commission's assistant director, said that the revenue generated by an upland bid stamp might provide provide the funds to incentivize landowners.

"If we're going to work with private landowners, there's going to be an offset," Colclasure said. "There need to be incentives, and we need ways to generate additional revenue to work with private landowners."

Of course, there's no guarantee that people will buy an upland bird stamp. At least two generations of Arkansas hunters have no quail hunting experience. If we haven't already lost that segment of our hunting culture, we're on the verge of it. Hunter participation is the key to success, and that requires consumer demand.

We have that demand with ducks, and the duck hunting popularity is at a peak right now. Older hunters complain about the ethics, behavior and methods of young hunters, but young hunters are driving that market.

For quail restoration to succeed in Arkansas, quail hunting must be seen as cool and exciting. You have to sell people on it. You have to teach them how to do it and persuade them to invest in it, in terms of buying bird dogs and dedicated quail hunting gear. That's a ground-up, grassroots proposition.

Cook mentioned his own experience as a duck hunter to illustrate how an upland bird stamp might succeed.

"I can only refer to my own practices every year," Cook said. "I buy two state duck stamps and two federal duck stamps every year because that conservation money is going to something I enjoy. I [am] buying that extra stamp to put my own investment into what I'm doing."

Cook said his late father, an avid birdhunter, would approve of an upland bird stamp.

"If this opportunity had been there, he would have bought it, and so would other avid birdhunters I know," Cook said.

Colclasure said that 21 states have some variation of an upland bird hunting stamp. They range in cost from $5-$40.

It takes a lot of energy to overcome inertia, especially when it comes to a resource that we take for granted. Ultimately, the only thing that really matters is creating or improving quail habitat. If you build it, the quail will come.

If quail are abundant, they are marketable. Hunters will follow them, and an industry will sprout around them.

Creating an upland bird hunting stamp is a big statement, but it cannot be a stand-alone deal. It has to be the push that moves the stone, but it takes continual effort to roll the stone.

Five years ago, I believed the quail age had ended in Arkansas.

Now, I'm encouraged that a new quail age is beginning.

Sports on 07/20/2017

Print Headline: Progress for quail hunting stamp

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