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The Pennsylvania Game Commission is moving ahead withpreliminary moves that could eventually lead to attempts to restore wild populations to some parts of the state.

And, that's about the most upbeat thing that can be said forthe small, covey-loving gamebird, whose once-famous, whistling "bob-white" callceased to be a familiar sound on the Pennsylvania landscape nearly a generationago.

Even the man in charge of the effort for the commission Ian Gregg, supervisor of the commission's Gamebird Section wasn't soundingall that optimistic when he updated the project status for the board of game commissioners.

"The trends are not good anywhere," he said. "Pretty mucheverything that the bobwhite exists, both long-term over the last 40 years andshort-term over the last five years, the trends are negative."

The small bird has been devastated by habitat loss as smallfarms, with their fencerows of dense cover, have been swallowed up into largerfarms with edge-to-edge cultivation and no fencerows, suburban developments,strip malls and the like.

The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, a coalitionof federal agencies, researches and state wildlife agencies in the 30 stateswhere quail were once common, described the plight of the quail as a "landscape-scalehabitat problem."

It's doubtful that researchers from Penn State will be ableto point to many quail left in Pennsylvania in a report they hope to provide inpreliminary form later this spring and even more iffy that they will be able todetermine that any quail they do find are wild birds rather than pen-raised birdsthat have been released.

Recent work revealed since the commission launched its quaileffort in a management plan for the species approved by commissioners inOctober 2011 has hinted that DNA evidence may not be able to distinguish wildquail from pen-raised birds.

Nevertheless, in an additional push to zero-in on anyremaining areas in the state that the commission might develop as the "small,short-term focus areas" that the NBCI foresees as the beginning of restorationefforts, the commission is preparing to survey the small number of hunters whostill pursue quail in the state for their thoughts of prime locations.

The commission also plans to survey gamebird propagatorsacross the state to try to get some estimation on how many quail are being raisedeach year in the state, and if possible where they are being released.

The NBCI sees all of that as preliminary to the real work ofrestoring quail populations across the eastern U.S. Results from efforts on thesmall focus areas would eventually be rolled out over larger areas of potentialhabitat.

And, that's not going to be a short-term effort.

"We're not going to become the (once-quail-rich) Southeastor Texas," cautioned Gregg. "In the 10-year timeframe we're probably not goingto see huntable populations in Pennsylvania."

In addition to lack of widespread, suitable habitat, quailalso are susceptible to winter weather.

"Any winter with more than 40 inches of snow is hard onquail," Gregg told commissioners, noting that could be another limiting factoracross much of the state, other than some areas in southcentral andsoutheastern Pennsylvania.

However, Commissioner James Jay Delaney Jr., the primesupporter of the quail effort on the board of commissioners, noted that quailwere originally found in states farther north than Pennsylvania.

Gregg explained that there was a time when much larger areasof suitable habitat allowed quail populations to contract into protected areasduring severe winters and then gradually repopulate the rest of the landscapeduring milder winters.

"We're just operating from a different habitat level than wehad a few decades ago," he said.

Delaney pressed the issue, "It's a native species toPennsylvania and I think it should get the extra effort."

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