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Richmond, VA - Wildlife in Peril August 20, 2005 9:10 AM

 
Wildlife in peril
Report identifies 925 species in need of conservation action

BY REX SPRINGSTON
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Aug 17, 2005

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 August 20, 2005 9:10 AM

Protecting animals before they become rare is good for the public, said Whitehurst with the game department. If an animal goes on the federal endangered-species list, its habitat is federally protected, and that could affect people's property rights.

"One major emphasis behind this work is to keep common animals common," he said.

Local governments could use the report in planning development, Whitehurst said.

"This is not to stop development, but if we value wildlife, we need to steer development to those places that are not as important for wildlife."

Noting other reasons for protecting animals, Whitehurst said people spend $3 billion to $4 billion a year to hunt, fish and watch wildlife in Virginia.

Many people simply like having wild creatures around them, he said. "It plays a role in the quality of life."

While falcons, turtles and quail are sure to draw the public's attention, 70 percent of the imperiled species are invertebrates, including such insects as the Dismal Swamp green stink bug and such mussels as the Tennessee heel splitter.

But those animals have value, too, Whitehurst said. Mussels, for example, require clean water, and their decline alerts us that rivers are in trouble.

The report calls for such actions as protecting wild lands, reducing pollution and increasing funding to aid wildlife.

The game department's staff will ask the agency's board to approve the report tomorrow.

The staff prepared the report with the help of experts from other state and federal agencies, universities and nonprofit groups.

The 900-plus-page report is 3 inches thick and took 18 months to compile.

All states are preparing similar reports to continue receiving certain federal wildlife-protection grants. For Virginia, the grants have totaled $1 million to $1.5 million a year since 2001, Whitehurst said.

He said he hopes to secure an increase in the federal grants to step up Virginia's wildlife-protection programs.

The game department plans to hire a person by early next year to help put the report's recommendations in action. For the effort to succeed, the game department will need to work with other agencies and nonprofit groups, such as The Nature Conservancy, Whitehurst said.

Populations of game animals, such as deer and bears, are regulated through hunting, and their numbers are generally in good shape.

Joseph Mitchell, a University of Richmond reptile expert who contributed to the report, said he hopes it will lead to efforts to protect wild lands. But Mitchell believes wildlife habitats and their inhabitants will continue to disappear.

"In the broad brush, it's a function of urban sprawl and the fact we like our cars and our roads and our houses," he said. "In the long run, I'm very pessimistic."

People can help through such simple actions as keeping part of their yards wild, Mitchell said.

Whitehurst urged the public to get involved. "Anybody who is interested in wildlife, we want them to get this document and find out what role they can play."


Contact Rex Springston at (804) 649-6453 or rspringston@timesdispatch.com

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