Georgia Quail, BQI And Bob Lane

Rep. Bob Lane went to Atlanta hoping to do something about quail. As chairman of the House Game, Fish & Parks committee, he is doing that and more for sportsmen.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. | March 1, 2002

During the last five years, Georgia hunters and fishermen have enjoyed strong leadership for their interests in the state legislature, and the list of results is impressive. From organized efforts to restore wild quail, to elevating the legal status of hunting from a “privilege” to a “right,” outdoorsmen have witnessed an unusual amount of energy expended on their behalf in the General Assembly. Many people have contributed to these accomplishments, but the root of some of this recent success can be traced back 22 years to one man’s decision.

It was September of 1980, and Jones Lane, of Statesboro, had just been reelected to the General Assembly after 20 years in the House of Representatives. At age 60, Jones Lane died suddenly while undergoing heart surgery in Atlanta. Immediately, family friends and supporters began asking his two sons if they were going to run for their father’s seat in the special election. The oldest, Billy, was interested. The younger son, Bob, wanted to stay focused on farming. But it turned out that Billy lived just outside the district and was not eligible. Bob Lane agreed to throw his hat in the ring.

“I had no interest in the political life,” Bob said. “But I did think about the good I might be able to do, and I particularly wanted to do something about the situation with quail. One of the first things I went to Atlanta and did was set up a meeting with Leon Kirkland (who was then director of DNR’s Game & Fish Division). I said, ‘Leon, we’re losing our quail.’ He said, ‘No, we just haven’t had the weather. If we have one good year they’ll come back.’

“I believed him at the time, but now we know that other changes were happening. People quit burning the woodlands like we used to, we started pushing up fencerows, making fields bigger and farming from one treeline to the other. You either had a harrowed field or timber that was grown up in gall-berries. There just wasn’t a place for quail anymore.”

Bob discovered quickly that accomplishing personal goals in the legislature would not become easy until he had a few terms under his belt and perhaps a committee chairmanship. But after 10 or 11 years in office, he was beginning to feel burned out, and he was tempted to retire.

“I would have stepped down,” Bob said, “but I still had things I wanted to do, and I was beginning to get enough seniority that things were possible.”

Rep. Bob Lane, of Statesboro, gets the beeper collar ready for his pointer, Peggy, on a cold, January 4, 2002 quail hunt. The Bulloch County farm that was hunted is enrolled in the Bobwhite Quail Initiative, a quail-restoration program that Bob Lane helped create.

After serving as chairman of the House Industrial Relations committee, Bob got the opportunity he had been waiting for. In the middle of the 1997-98 session, he took over as chairman of the House Game, Fish & Parks committee. As a lifelong hunter, he was more than qualified.

“My dad was just about as big a quail hunter as I am now,” said Bob. “He started taking me along as a little boy when I couldn’t even keep up. I toted a BB gun for a little while, and then my first gun was a .410. I hunted for several years with that .410, and I remember that I was killing three and four a trip with it. Now, looking back, I don’t know if I really shot them or my dad shot them with me and I just claimed them.”

Deer grabbed his attention next, and his deer hunting grew to compete with his quail hunting. All of it took a back seat in the 1980s when he succumbed to the lure of the turkey woods.

“You know how it is,” he said. “Turkey hunting almost makes you lose interest in your other hunting, particularly deer hunting, it’s just such a challenge. I fell in love with that, and my two boys, Brant and David, were getting big enough to go with me. They got to be excellent callers, and they are both good turkey hunters.”

Planting Vidalia onions was a successful move for Bob, but with a spring harvest season it cut into his turkey hunting. Bob no longer farms; he leases his cropland out to other farmers, and he owns and runs U-Save Auto Rental in Statesboro. Quail hunting has remained his prime pursuit in the outdoors, and he and his dogs hunt every year all over Georgia as well as in Texas, where wild quail are numerous.

As chairman of the House Game, Fish & Parks committee, Bob continued to urge DNR to take a closer look at quail. He had been talking with David Waller ever since David had become director of DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division, and finally the research coming in from groups like Auburn University was beginning to reveal remedies that could help quail.

“David told his people to start drafting a proposal for a program, and that’s how the Bobwhite Quail Initiative got started,” said Bob. “David deserves a heck of a lot of credit.”

Though Bob had come to Atlanta 22 years ago with the hope of doing something for quail, he said it ultimately took the efforts of many people to make BQI happen. Other legislators lent their expertise and influence to the project, including Terry Coleman of Eastman, Bob Hanner of Parrott, Butch Parrish of Swainsboro, Newt Hudson of Rochelle, and David Lucas of Macon. Once the pilot program was up and running, Johnny Floyd of Cordele and Richard Royal of Camilla helped begin its expansion.

BQI is a program that provides financial incentives and technical assistance to landowners who conduct certain practices, such as leaving strips of fallow land on the borders of cultivated fields, thinning pine timber and burning woodlands. BQI is entering its third growing season now, and in just the first two years the program has enrolled 196 fields owned by 84 different “cooperators” or landowners in the 17 eligible counties, with an estimated 272 miles of field borders and hedgerows established. Counting the cooperators who have signed up for the coming growing season, the number of fields will nearly double.

On January 4, Bob Lane, BQI biologist Chris Bowman and myself met in Bulloch County to tour and hunt on a 360-acre farm that is enrolled in the BQI program. The farm is owned by Raybon Anderson of Statesboro, a neighbor and friend of Bob’s.

Raybon has four different fields under management, all with a band of fallow dirt between cultivated land and woods, all grown up in ragweed and dog fennel above head height — which Chris was pleased to see. In the recent dry weather, many field borders have struggled to put out the thick cover that provides both food and safe shelter for quail. Also, a logging crew has just completed thinning a stand of mature pines on the farm, another part of the BQI recommendations.

Both Bob and Raybon brought along their dogs and their .20-gauge Brownings. This was the first time Raybon had hunted the farm since enrolling in BQI, and though no one intended to shoot for a limit even if it was available, Raybon was curious to see what the dogs could find. Covey counts (and Raybon’s own surveys) had indicated that one covey was located on the farm before Raybon began his management practices in 2000. Counts done just before Christmas by UGA researchers found three coveys.

At Raybon’s farm, Bob opened the dog box in the back of his Z71 and turned out Peggy, an English pointer whose mother and father were both National Shooting Dog Champions. Raybon got out his dog, Penny, another pointer and the pick of one of Bob’s own litters. Though Penny and Peggy worked the hedgerows and thickets thoroughly, the walk around Raybon’s farm in the bright January sun was interrupted only by Bob’s cell phone.

“Y’all excuse me,” Bob said. “I wouldn’t take calls except that I’m hoping to hear from the Governor. You don’t call the Governor, you leave a message and wait for him to call you.”

The call was in fact from the Governor.

Around the capitol, Bob Lane is the type of legislator who works quietly and accomplishes his job without fanfare, rarely seeking to get his name or his face into the headlines or in front of a camera. Despite this, or because of it, he is among the more respected and connected representatives. For six years on the House floor, Bob’s seat was next to the seat of Rep. Roy Barnes. The friendship that developed has been an asset to Bob now that Roy Barnes is Governor.

“I still don’t consider myself a politician,” said Bob. “Even though that kind of comes with the territory, I consider myself a sportsman and just an average guy.”

As we followed the dogs around more of Raybon’s farm, Raybon pointed out a 60-acre field that had once been three fields separated by fencerows. “I cleaned up those fencerows time I bought this farm back in the 70s,” said Raybon. “We had bigger equipment and we thought that was the way to go, but it was the wrong thing to do for wildlife, I tell you.”

Late in the afternoon on another section of Raybon’s farm, Bob turned out his best pointer, Buck.

“That’s the best dog I’ve ever had or hunted behind or even seen,” said Bob, as Buck took off around the curve of the mowed cotton field. “If there’s birds there, he’ll find them.”

And apparently Buck did. On the way out to the trucks, Buck got ahead of the hunters in a fencerow, and his beeper collar began to beep rapidly and continuously, indicating that the dog had stopped moving and was on point. Bob and Raybon hurried to catch up, climbing a fence in a briar thicket and crossing the dense field border, while Buck’s beeper kept sounding. By the time they found Buck, the collar had stopped beeping, and Buck was creeping around a briar thicket looking mighty “birdy.” The quail had either flushed or run.

Though the hunt had not produced any covey rises or gunfire, Raybon’s confidence in BQI remains high. It is clear that the program offers a gradual return of investment, and success is being measured in terms of what hasn’t been lost rather than what has been gained. On more than 70 percent of enrolled lands, quail numbers have either increased or remained stable in the last two years. That doesn’t look impressive until you see the results from monitoring of the “control” farms, where no management is being conducted. In the same time, quail have declined on 70 percent on these unmanaged farms.

In the five years since becoming chairman of the House Game, Fish & Parks committee, Bob Lane has introduced and passed several pieces of legislation to benefit sportsmen, including the enabling legislation for BQI. He has changed the laws to encourage landowners to burn their woodlands by reducing their liability, which goes hand-in-hand with BQI. He has also passed legislation to give landowners with a nest-predator problem the ability to get a permit from WRD for out-of-season trapping. The Lifetime Sportsman’s License that residents can now purchase was Bob Lane’s project, as was the enabling legislation for the GOALS system of electronic hunting and fishing license sales, which now makes it fast and convenient to buy any state license. Further, Bob Lane was a co-sponsor of House Bill 301, the “right to hunt and fish” bill. Beyond legislation, a benefit for sportsmen that is harder to quantify has been simply having a committee chairman who knows deer, turkey and quail hunting as only an enthusiastic hunter can.

This year, it appears that Bob Lane’s big project for sportsmen will be the state budget — as part of mandatory cuts, DNR proposed scaling back BQI to the original 14 counties (there would have been 20) and dropping two BQI personnel. Gov. Barnes has included the proposal in his budget package.

“I think they offer up things like these that they know there’s a lot of interest in,” said Bob, “and they know the legislators are going to fight to get them back in the budget.

“That’s exactly what I hope to do.”

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