"What we hope to do in working with the sportsmen's federation is bring together two groups that in many ways share the same goals," David Wheeler, executive director of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation, said in opening remarks at a hotel in Eatontown.
The aim of the event, Wheeler said, was to bring participants up to date on conservation issues, such as the status of the bobwhite quail, while identifying ways of building public support for the outdoors, especially among young people.
Frank Virgilio, membership director for the Sportsmen's Clubs Federation, said the groups have recognized their common interests since the time of President Theodore Roosevelt, a hunter who understood that sportsmen would have no more game to shoot if they did not also work to conserve the targeted species.
With modern pressures such as habitat loss due to development and changing agricultural practices, there's an increasing need for the two communities to work together, he said.
"How do we get the green colors of Conserve Wildlife and the camouflage colors of hunters and fishermen to work together?" he asked.
Hunters have stopped shooting the wild quail, whose population has plummeted to around 600, largely in Salem, Gloucester, and Cumberland Counties, in response to loss of habitat.
Sportsmen would love to start hunting the birds again but recognize that they must first help the population recover to a sustainable level, Virgilio said.
To that end, they are working with Larry Niles, a former DEP biologist known for his work to save the endangered red knot, to raise funds for the preservation of farmland that formerly provided habitat for the birds, and could do so again if the conditions are right.
Virgilio expressed hope that with grain at current high prices, farmers could be persuaded not to cultivate the edges of their fields, making a small reduction in their crop acreage to restore some habitat favored by the quail.
Thanks to the latest conservation efforts, Virgilio said, he i's confident the quail can recover in the next 10 years.
For now, hunters are taking aim at captive-bred birds, some reared in Ocean County schools under the "Quail in the Classroom" program run by the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance's Environmental Projects. The captive-bred population is kept separate from the wild population.
Read more about New Jersey environmental issues at www.njspotlight.com