A North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) biologist who has played a leading role in establishing some of the finest bobwhite quail habitat in the state has been honored with the Wildlife Management Excellence Award from the Southeastern Section of The Wildlife Society.
Technical Assistance Biologist Benjy M. Strope of White Oak, NC, an 11-year NCWRC veteran, received the award at the Southeastern Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies annual conference in Hot Springs, AR recently for his success since 2006 in establishing and managing early-successional wildlife habitat in the expansive corporate farm setting of southeastern North Carolina. The 15,980-acre project is part of North Carolina’s efforts as a member of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) aimed at restoring wild bobwhites at a landscape level across 25 states.
Over the years Strope secured and managed $566,000 in North Carolina Department of Justice Environmental Enhancement Grant funding to finance the “corporate” component of the state’s Cooperative Upland Habitat Restoration and Enhancement program in the area, measurably improving water quality while simultaneously improving wildlife habitat on 1,200 of those acres. Strope has also aggressively engaged the corporate agriculture community, primarily hog operations, to demonstrate on a landscape scale that fully profitable operations can go hand-in-hand with habitat improvements such as field borders, native grasses and timber stand improvements.
Not only does the area now have one of the highest density quail populations in the state, it also supports a variety of high priority or declining songbirds — including loggerhead shrikes, American kestrels, northern harriers, dickcissels, yellow-breasted chats, eastern meadowlarks, eastern kingbirds, blue grosbeaks and indigo buntings – that require such habitat. In addition, Strope conducts “Wildlife & Water Quality” workshops for corporate farmers, family farmers and resource professionals at least once each year.
“Integrating natural resource management strategies into the management of large farms will continue to be a challenging but necessary process if agricultural producers are to address wildlife and environmental quality,” said NCWRC Wildlife Division Chief David Cobb. “This is a model that can be replicated in other areas of the state and on corporate farms across the nation. The Wildlife Management Excellence Award is fitting recognition of his hard work, dedication, and leadership.”
“What Benjy Strope and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission have done is a model in creative thinking,” said NBCI Director Don McKenzie. “It illustrates how states can adapt to various challenges in their efforts to return bobwhites and other wildlife species to our landscape.”
Strope graduated from California University of Pennsylvania with a B.S. in Wildlife Biology in 1996 and worked for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries and the Foundation for California University before going to work for NCWRC in 2001. He was named the Division of Wildlife Management Biologist of the Year in 2011.
Image courtesy National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative