Firescape Project Update


Southern Arizona Chapter of Quail Forever

1520 E. Bristol Drive

Nogales, AZ 85621

September 22, 2017



Thank you for soliciting our input. The Southern Arizona chapter of Quail Forever is an organization committed to the effective management, protection and enhancement of quail habitat in southern Arizona. Currently, we are working with your counterpart in the Sierra Vista Office to incorporate several features into their Border 2 Firescape Project. Additionally, we are working on several committees that are chartered with improving wildlife habitat. Our interests focus on the enhancement of the Mearns Quail habitat, which we believe can be a direct by-product of your improved fuels management project.

I’m sure you are aware that the boundaries of your proposal include some prime habitat for Mearns Quail. Specifically, Blanca, Adobe, Hog, Fort, Gardener, Fish, & Oak Tree Canyons have been identified in past studies as areas of note that hold good populations of Mearns Quail. Several of these locations were used to trap and monitor Mearns Quail during past research projects. These studies allow for better understanding and management of the population and are reflected in the following comments.

Our research and community involvement has generated several features that we believe are needed to protect and/or enhance the long term health of Mearns Quail. Fortunately, all of them are simple in nature, can be accomplished with a reasonable investment when coupled with focused management. Your ten-year project could be an ideal vehicle for implementing them into the forest.

The following; not in priority order, is a list of considerations that we would like to see included within the scope of fuels management:

Quail Shelters  They provide protection from avian predators during periods of feeding and loafing. Additionally, they can become growing areas for nut sedge (a primary food for Mearns Quail). They are naturally created during periods of high winds or heavy wet snow when large tree limbs fracture and fall to the ground. Once the leaves and smaller limbs fall off, they become shelters for several seasons. Eventually, they decay and no longer perform the function. Quail Shelters can also be created while limbing trees during canopy reduction actions.

Travel Corridors Protected avenues that allow quail to move between valleys when the habitat in one valley suffers degradation and is no longer habitable. Habitability issues occur due to fire, drought, over grazing or the loss of high protein foods. Another purpose for retaining Travel Corridors is to allow natural movement during the breeding season to facilitate gene diversity between family groups. Travel Corridors are easily maintained by not removing one or two passage ways of canopy cover that would facilitate the safe movement of quail from one valley to the next.

Canopy Retention Mearns Quail need canopy cover for both thermal retention and predator protection. Both ground and aerial predators are effected. Recent studies have identified minimum and maximum canopy cover as specific requirements for good Mearns Quail habitat. Canopy cover for Mearns Quail comes in two forms; typically bunch grass and oak trees are best for good habitat.

According to AGFD Technical Guidance Bulletin No. 4 (Bristow & Ockenfels, 2000), optimum grass cover would consist of 51-75% of the surface area covered in grass higher than 20 cm. A mosaic pattern with some grass plots up to 50 cm would be ideal.

Tree canopy, greater than 26%, is necessary not only for thermal and screening properties but also to provide the microclimate needed for producing the forbes quail feed on. Quail preference is a tree canopy between 26 – 50% (Bristow & Ockenfels, Aug 2000). Canopies below 25% and above 75% are generally found to be undesirable.

Loose Rock Structures These are numerous small dams constructed by relocating rocks within the natural drainages. They can be as small as a row of single rocks or might consist of a dam several rocks high. Starting up high in a natural drainage, adjacent dams can be relative close together or wider spaced depending on the topography and slope of the drainage. Hundreds of Loose Rock Structures have been created on several ranches on the east side of the Chiricahua Mountains. These structures perform several beneficial functions. Originally incorporated to reduce erosion, they also create small water holding areas, allowing the water to leach into the aquafer.  In some cases, their use has reestablished year- round small streams. Additionally, they collect sediment. Over time, the sediment becomes a small nursery for growing Oxalis (a primary food source for Mearns Quail). When these features are incorporated in good Mearns Quail habitat, the sustainable quail population has increased significantly. Frequently, the biggest cost and impediment to installing these on public land is the NEPA process. With NEPA approval for your project we could pursue Loose Rock Structure installation over the next ten years. This is particularly appealing to our organization and an area where we might be able to assist in funding.

For us, your proposed project is very timely. We are a relatively new chapter and anxious to become viable players in all habitat projects that impact quail in southern Arizona. Recently, we completed our first water project working in cooperation with PIMA County. We were able to provide both funding and labor to complete the project. Incorporating our suggestions as part of a fuels management project within your district would give us another avenue to utilize our resources in pursuit of our goals.

If you remember, my permanent home is in Billings, Montana. During the winter, I reside in Sierra Vista. This year I plan on returning to Arizona, on or about, November 20, 2017 where I will remain until mid March 2018. After my return to Sierra Vista, I would be pleased to meet with you to further discuss our recommendations.


Tom Sullivan

Habitat Committee Chairman,

Southern Arizona Chapt. Quail Forever