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It’s hard to imagine that one type of bird could just vanish from New Jersey, but that’s exactly what happened in the Pine Barrens.

For nearly 40 years, the northern bobwhite quail hadn’t been spotted in South Jersey. Although the quails’ disappearance isn’t fully understood, they are known to thrive in forest environments that regularly experience fires (they’ve been nicknamed “fire birds”). Since the Pine Barrens have been largely fire-free for decades, it could explain why the bobwhites have fled the area.

That all started to change in 2015, when members of the New Jersey Audubon Society began capturing groups of the bird in Georgia and reintroducing them to the Pine Barrens at Bill Haines’ cranberry farm in Chatsworth. Since then, the South Jersey quail population has been climbing.

Haines was recently awarded the National Fire Bird Conservation Award from the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative for his work, making it the first time anyone from New Jersey received the honor. The project could also have a bigger, more far-flung reach, as experts and those involved in bobwhite conservation say that the Pine Barrens project could influence how regions work to help the species recover.

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