Quail Unlimited Faces Uncertain Future

Rob Pavey | December 6, 2009

Quail Unlimited, the nation’s primary conservation group dedicated to bobwhite quail, is working to reorganize its ranks amid financial turmoil and a series of personnel changes and resignations.

The 28-year-old non-profit, which has been headquartered in Edgefield, S.C., ever since it was established in 1981, has also placed its national headquarters building and adjoining property up for sale and furloughed its local and regional employees.

“These are tough times,” said Albany outdoorsman and landowner Bill Bowles, who serves as a member of the organization’s national board of directors and an officer on the board’s executive committee for financial matters. “And there has also been a lot of bad press and inaccuracies.”

In a nutshell, Bowles said, the organization’s current state is a by-product of an uncertain economic environment, coupled with a lack of communication between the organization’s top executives and its national board of directors.

“The financial position of the organization was in a steady decline,” he said. “We were reaching critical mass, and it is hard for a board of very, very smart businessmen to give guidance and leadership to a nonprofit conservation organization if the board is not shown accurate financial data.”

In March, longtime president Rocky Evans stepped down for health reasons and Craig A. Alderman — the organization’s marketing director since 2006 — was appointed by the board to replace Evans on an interim basis. After seven months, Alderman was dismissed in a split board vote, Bowles said, and at least six board members have subsequently resigned.

“When the board called for a meeting to discuss placing Alderman back in his marketing position and bringing in another interim president — and at same time hiring an outside financial consultant to tell us where we were — there was dissension among the ranks. Some wanted Alderman to remain.”

In addition to personnel issues, the group — which once managed an annual budget of almost $6 million —also ran out of money.

“On Oct. 27 we realized we couldn’t make payroll for the 31st,” Bowles said. “How do you ask someone to stay when you can’t pay them?”

QU has 24 paid employees, some of whom are regional directors who work in parts of the country outside of the group’s Edgefield headquarters. Efforts are under way to find a way to put some of them back to work, he said. The initial unpaid furlough was to be for two weeks, but could be extended.

Although bankruptcy has been discussed, Bowles believes QU can be salvaged without such a step. It will take work and a commitment by those who believe in the group’s founding principles, though, he said.

“We can spend all day looking in the rear-view mirrors and that does not help us tomorrow,” Bowles said. “We have to turn around, quit worrying about the personalities here, face the music and pull ourselves up by the bootstraps if we are to save this organization.”

Although payments continue to be made on the QU headquarters and an adjoining 75 acres in Edgefield, it may be necessary to sell the property to generate cash, he said. The current asking price is $650,000.

“The organization is not bankrupt,” he said. “We are asking state chairmen of the organization to support the board and work with the board —instead of being divided — so that the funds from the local chapters will continue to come in to the organization.”

Jerry Allen founded Quail Unlimited in 1981, and said he hopes the organization will survive.

“Several chapters and a few wealthy board members have come to the rescue and will cover expenses for a while till QU recovers,” he said.

The organization, which once had more than 30,000 members, has a history of helping natural-resource agencies and landowners make their habitat a better place for quail. QU’s many accomplishments include spreading its chapters to areas as far away as Oregon and New Mexico — and convincing the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies to adopt quail-management programs.

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