Pheasants Forever
Photo credit: Adam Fichna

Upland Birds Are Disappearing, But a $500 Million Campaign Aims to Change That

In the wake of devastating losses in bird population and habitat, the 2021 national campaign from Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever focuses on funds for educating hunters, restoring habitat, and protecting public lands.

Across the nation, birds are in trouble. In 2019, a comprehensive national assessment published in Science found that the U.S. lost nearly 3 billion breeding adult birds. This is certainly not limited to upland bird populations, but birds beloved by the hunting community continue to disappear at staggering rates.

Habitat is at the heart of the issue. For example, since 2009, 53 million acres of grasslands have been lost to development. And out of 90 million acres of historic longleaf pine habitat in the American South, just 3 million acres remain.

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever intend to make a dent in the losses with their new Call of the Uplands campaign, announced on Feb. 25.

The Plight of North American Birds

Quail Forever
Gambel’s Quail singing on a branch at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, N.M.; photo credit: Michael Dobes

Human-altered landscapes are simply not supporting wildlife. And because of this, in less than a single human lifetime, the U.S. bird population has declined by nearly 30%.

Birds loved by upland hunters are also in serious trouble. The iconic bobwhite quail of the American South has declined 83% in population since 1966. The non-native pheasant population declined by 27%. And grassland birds in general experienced a 53% loss in population.

But conservation efforts have brought troubled avian populations back from the brink before. Many raptors — including the incredible effort to save bald eagles — are experiencing thriving numbers thanks to the Endangered Species Act and the outlawing of DDT use.

And waterfowl and wild turkeys have seen huge increases in population. This is in no small part due to conservation efforts spurred by hunting-focused groups, like the wildly successful Federal Duck Stamp.

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are a longtime part of the conservation effort to create successful habitat for upland birds. Since 1982, 15.8 million acres of quality pheasant habitat have been created or restored thanks to the organizations, and 187,000 acres have been permanently protected and opened up to upland hunters. Their 149,000 members complete more than 15,000 habitat-focused projects annually.

A $500 Million Campaign to Restore Habitat, Engage Landowners & Hunters

The ambitious effort to raise $500 million is already off to a good start, with major donations from individuals, organizations, and brands, including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Nestle Purina PetCare.

And the plans for the money are as ambitious as the number they intend to raise. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever plan on creating, restoring, and enhancing 9 million acres of upland bird habitat nationwide. Within that plan are goals to protect vital landscapes, create conservation easements, and use title-fee acquisitions to permanently protect 75,000 acres.

Additionally, the campaign intends to reach 1.5 million people across the U.S. with new and expanded education and outreach programs. These programs will promote habitat education, conservation leadership, and hunting heritage.

“The uplands are some of the most threatened places on the planet, but we still have a chance to reclaim them,” said Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, at the virtual launch.

“And this campaign is about Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever rising to that challenge. Through this campaign, we will join together to conserve the wild prairies, grasslands, and piney woods our favorite birds need and humanity requires.”

You can learn more about the entire campaign here, and the video above details the effort in full.

Nicole Qualtieri

Based in Montana, Nicole Qualtieri is GearJunkie's Hunt + Fish Editor. She also serves as a Board Director for Orion the Hunters Insititute, a non-profit promoting fair chase and hunting ethics nationwide. A DIY hunter, she comes from a non-traditional hunting background and began hunting and fishing in her 30s. She's been a voice for hunting, fishing, and conservation since 2014, when she got started working on the television show MeatEater. She's an avid horsewoman, bird dog aficionado, snowboarder, hiker/backpacker, food nerd, and all-around outdoorswoman. Find her online at @nkqualtieri.