Quail Unlimited, the nation's largest conservation group devoted to bobwhite quail, has shut its doors, furloughed its 24 remaining employees and put its national headquarters in Edgefield, S.C., up for sale to resolve what board members say are catastrophic financial problems.
"It is bleak," said Bill Bowles, a member of the organization's national board of directors and an officer on the board's executive committee for financial matters." On Oct. 27th we realized we couldn't make payroll for the 31st. How do you ask someone to stay when you can't pay them?"
The organization, founded in 1981, has about 30,000 members and an annual budget just shy of $6 million that is generated from sponsors, banquets and fundraising programs nationwide.
Although conservation groups everywhere are struggling with declining membership and the impacts of an economic downturn, the problems at Quail Unlimited were compounded by internal strife and a lack of communication with the volunteer board of directors, which meets just twice a year, Bowles said.
"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."
Leadership within the group has shifted in recent months. In late 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."
Currently, efforts are under way to save Quail Unlimited and put its employees back to work. The current furlough will last two weeks but could be extended.
"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."
He said he does not believe bankruptcy will be necessary.
"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."
According to a listing with Mathis Realty, of Edgefield, the group's national headquarters, warehouses and 75 acres are being offered for $650,000.
"There is equity in the property," Bowles said. "The sale could at least get the organization partly out of the hole. We don't have to have 75 acres and a warehouse to run a conservation organization."
There is also uncertainty over where Quail Unlimited will be headquartered in the future. "At this point we don't know if it will stay in Edgefield or even in the Augusta area."
"We are working to get our staff back to work and make sure they have a paycheck, and to make sure we have a future for this organization," he said. "We can't turn all this around in two weeks, but we can put a tourniquet on it and go from there."
Jerry Allen, who founded Quail Unlimited in 1981 but is no longer a board member, said he hopes the organization will recover and survive -- and stay in Edgefield.
"It breaks my heart to see what has happened," he said. "I put my life into this thing."
The organization has a long history of helping natural resource agencies and landowners figure out ways to make their habitat a better place for quail. Quail Unlimited'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.
More than anything else, the group has worked hard to convey that everyone should care about quail, whose presence in a healthy ecosystem typically shows that all is well. It would be a shame, Allen said, for that message to be lost.
RACK ARREST: Most folks look for trophy bucks deep in the woods, but someone did some hunting this season at a local taxidermy studio, according to a burglary report filed with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
The owner of Frog's Taxidermy in Leah, Ga., reported that someone entered the business Oct. 28 and removed a mounted whitetail deer and an unmounted set of antlers, the report said.
On Tuesday, two suspects were arrested in the case. Charged with one count each of burglary were 17-year-old Alexander Faircloth, of the 2500 block of Falling Branch Lane, Evans; and a 16-year-old juvenile, also of Evans, according to sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris.
Faircloth was also charged with theft by receiving stolen property (deer rack), Capt. Morris said, adding that both deer racks were recovered.
AUGUSTAN PROMOTED: Spud Woodward, a former Augusta resident and well-known angler and outdoor writer, was promoted recently to director of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Coastal Resources Division.
The Augusta College graduate, who had served as assistant director since 2002, will replace retiring director Susan Shipman.
A 25-year veteran of the department, Woodward supervises the daily operations of a 35-person workforce and administers an annual $3 million budget, the DNR said.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.