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Brown: Virginia’s wildlife and open spaces offer essential outlet

Brown: Virginia’s wildlife and open spaces offer essential outlet

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By Ryan Brown

Brown is executive director of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

As we all work together to stop the spread of COVID-19, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) is doing all that it can to help Virginians experience the outdoors responsibly. As the state’s wildlife management agency, and largest landowner thanks to our network of publicly accessible Wildlife Management Areas, DGIF is dedicated to helping Virginians connect to fish and wildlife.

This week, we mark the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. And while many are aware of DGIF’s traditional program offerings, including the state’s first-class hunting and fishing opportunities, I want to let Virginians know about everything else we are doing to protect our piece of Planet Earth and improve quality of life in Virginia.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is blessed with a rich abundance of fish and wildlife. From black bear to brook trout, white-tailed deer to warblers, Virginia’s diversity of species fills our beautiful landscapes with life and provides recreational and educational opportunities for the public. Hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching make important contributions to our economy, and especially in times like these, provide a welcome escape that can help people cope with isolation and uncertainty.

DGIF undertakes fish and wildlife management for the benefit of all, including by working to recover threatened and endangered species, and protect others. We have restored populations of iconic species such as the peregrine falcon, osprey, and bald eagle; reintroduced elk, which had been extirpated in the 19th century; bred and released millions of fish and mussels for recreation and restoration at our hatcheries; and opened thousands of miles of waterways to migratory fish species by removing dams. Currently, we are working to offer new protections to migratory birds following the repeal of historic safeguards by the federal government. Notably, as this piece is being written, our staff are hard at work to provide habitat for gull-billed terns and other bird species at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

The face of our landscape is constantly changing, and with increasing urbanization and development comes fragmentation and loss of critical habitats, which is the top threat faced by our wildlife. Many are not aware of the biological gem that the Commonwealth is; from our coastal areas to our mountains, we are fortunate to have great diversity. In fact, Southwest Virginia represents one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. We must protect this for future generations.

In an effort to better reflect the comprehensive nature of our approach to wildlife management, effective July 1, we will be known as the Department of Wildlife Resources. With this change in name, we will continue to serve constituencies that have supported and funded us historically, while promoting our outreach to a more diverse group of fish, wildlife, and outdoor enthusiasts. We want to make it clear that Virginians of all backgrounds and interest can and should experience the wonders afforded to us here.

Our 230,000 acres of Wildlife Management Areas are open to everyone, and we want to keep it that way to offer an important outlet for people as we weather the COVID-19 pandemic. So please, enjoy these beautiful wild spaces, but practice social distancing and avoid gatherings.

As we reflect on Earth Day, it is important that we take stock of the multitude of wildlife species that we are fortunate to have, and to be thankful for the contributions of all of the natural resources community—whether focused on wildlife, clean air, clean water, land conservation, forest management, the promotion of recreational and educational opportunities, or other areas—to our wildlife and habitats throughout the Commonwealth. As we as a society make our way through unprecedented times, I would encourage all Virginians to re-acquaint themselves with the outdoors, not only for the appreciation of our wildlife, but for the benefits that the outdoors provides to the health and quality of life of all of us.

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