By AILA BOYD
The Botetourt Community Partnership (BCP) held its spring meeting last Thursday morning at the Fincastle Library. The topic of discussion was endangered species in honor of Endangered Species Day, which was on May 17.
Bill Wilson, Fred Huber, and Tim Miller provided insight into endangered species.
Upper James Program Manager for the Valley Conservation Council Genevieve Goss said that an op-ed that Wilson penned back in March sparked her interest in devoting a whole meeting to discussions on endangered species.
The op-ed was titled “Want more quail? Here’s how to help.” In it, Wilson recounted a conversation that he had at the “Double C” restaurant in Covington in which diners debated the reasons why the bobwhite quail have gone and why grouse populations are declining.
One person attributed the decline to predators such as coyotes, bobcats and bears.
Another person identified farmers, landowners, and utility companies as being the problem because they tend to cut foliage and farm to the fences of the fields.
When asked about the efforts made by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to create and maintain wildlife habits, Wilson said that it’s only a “drop in the bucket.”
“If landowners wait for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, then it’s not going to happen,” Wilson said, stressing that it has limited staff and resources. “It’s like throwing an anvil in the air— it will come back down if you don’t do something to keep it up there.”
Wilson said that although the primary concern of farmers and utility companies is to make a profit, a sense of civic responsibility needs to play a factor in their decision making. He added that groups like BCP can play a vital role in bringing about change. As for the role that politicians have to play in discussions of endangered species and habitat preservation, he said that they’re oftentimes influenced by powerful lobbyists.
Having served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1974-1989, Wilson said that he was instrumental in having a study commissioned on the bobwhite quail. The study ultimately led to the Virginia Quail Recovery Initiative that the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries administers. The initiative provides information on bobwhite quail, habitat management, and technical/financial assistance. The department even publishes an annual magazine called “The Bobwhite Bulletin” that can be accessed on its website.
Questions about the initiative can be directed to Marc Puckett, the team leader for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for the Farmville Office. He can be reached at (434) 392-8328.
Although creating more habitats is the goal, Wilson said, it’s only part of the solution to addressing endangered species. Once the habitats have been restored, he said, the birds will have to be brought in because they have long since left the areas.
Additionally, he said that people need to start paying attention to the honey bee on up through humans. “A honey bee has to make a living just like everybody else. When you take the flowers away and he doesn’t have something to pollinate, not only is it bad for us, it’s bad for the honey bee,” Wilson said.
Goss agreed, noting, “It’s wise for us to look at ways to improve the whole picture.”
Huber addressed different scales of environmental change and whether or not humans will play a part in coming changes.
“I’m thinking about a situation that occurred or maybe is occurring where you have a whole suite of organisms or a whole ecosystem that’s functioning quite content and then something changes and we get an invisible, colorless gas being produced that over time causes global catastrophes for the ecosystem that’s there,” he said. “I’m not talking about CO2 and climate change. I’m talking about back in the history of the earth when anaerobic bacteria were the dominant life on earth. Then plants came around or organisms that had chlorophyll and could produce oxygen. Over the millions of years oxygen buildup and those organisms that oxygen is lethal to died out or were relegated to places like the bottom of the ocean, allowing this whole other world that we know now, of plants and animals, to occur.”
He said that global changes like the one that he outlined can and probably will occur. The question, he said, is whether or not humans will play a role in the coming changes.
“Humans have not been around that long. We tend to take a short view of things,” he said, noting that a good example is that people will often move back into fire and flood prone areas once whatever disaster that made them move in the first place is a few generations removed. “We tend to be selfish and just do what’s in our self-interest.”
Being selfish, he said, makes sense on a personal level when it comes to survival and reproduction, but not on a societal level.
On a local level, Huber stressed the importance of wetland preservation. Planting trees on the side of streams and protecting ponds from degradation from livestock can accomplish that goal, he said.
Miller, the education and outreach coordinator for Mountain Castles Soil and Water Conservation District, noted that “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert is a good book to read to better understand the current man-made extinction that the planet is currently undergoing.
“Her premise is we’ve had five major global extinctions in the last four billion years and we’re in the midst of the sixth,” he explained.
Through the educational efforts that Mountain Castles engages in, Miller said, it hopes to instill a greater appreciation for the outdoors in local children.
The Endangered Species Act was passed by Congress in 1973 in order to recognize the esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value of the nation’s natural heritage. The act protects and recovers endangered species and ecosystems.
This year marked the 13th annual Endangered Species Day, which was started by Congress in 2006.