Nearly 900 Virginia wildlife species are endangered, but a federal bill could help protect them – The Virginian-Pilot

The ecosystem is like Jenga.

Each species is a building block, and every time a piece is removed, the tower gets a little weaker, said Scott Kloepfer, who heads the state branch of the Wildlife Society, an international non-profit that advocates for wildlife conservation.

“It is important to preserve each of our species – if we withdraw too much, the whole tower will eventually fall,” he said.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources has identified 883 species in the state as endangered Due to overfishing, habitat loss or climate change. With limited funding, there is a lot the agency can do to help. But the federal bill would provide a massive annual boost to help Virginia and other states Protecting endangered wildlife nationwide.

“It would be a game changer,” said Becky Gwen, deputy division director.

The legislation would allocate approximately $1.3 billion annually to be distributed among the state’s wildlife agencies. Gwen said Virginia’s cut would be about $22.5 million — about a third of the department’s budget — with 15% set aside to protect endangered species. This includes the endangered animals that face the greatest risk, as well as other animals that are less threatened.

With the additional money, Gwen said, the agency could boost educational outreach, expand habitat restoration efforts, increase research and tracking, and bring in more law enforcement officers to combat the illegal wildlife trade.

On Hampton Roads, among the species that can benefit.

Gwen said the box turtle was plentiful, but real estate Development in the area has destroyed much of its forest habitat. It is also a target for hunters.

“It’s amazing to know that a box turtle on the black market can get you $2,500,” she said. “But there are other cultures who use it for medicinal purposes or as food.”

The box serves the turtle a variety of roles in the local ecosystem, Gwen said.

It is a food source for some predators, and its faeces aid in the dispersal of seeds and consumption of many plants, preventing some plants from becoming too abundant.

Gwen said the big-eared bat is also struggling with the loss of its natural habitat in the Hampton Roads. They need space from humans, but evolution has made finding solitude more difficult.

“We are concerned that bats are disturbed in winter when they are hibernating,” she said, adding that the disturbances make bats expend energy and deplete their fat reserves.

The extra money can help the department build bat towers, wooden structures where bats can roost.

The black-banded sunfish is dwindling due to declining water quality, Gwen said. With more funding, the department could expand the fish hatcheries and release more of them back into the water to support the current population.

And there are hundreds of other animals across the state that could benefit from support: the black-crowned nocturnal heron is losing its breeding grounds due to sea level rise; The Ashton cuckoo bumblebee is under threat from climate change and the use of pesticides, and a variety of freshwater mussels is declining in southwest Virginia.

Although many species and habitats in the state face serious threats, Local Environmental Advocacy Group He believes there is a lack of awareness among many residents and lawmakers.

“I don’t think they fully understand,” said Skip Styles, executive director of Wetlands Watch, a Norfolk-based nonprofit that works to preserve and restore wetlands. “It poses a serious threat.”

About half of the wetlands in Hampton Roads have been lost “from the advent of (the first settlers) to the present,” Stills said.

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“If this bill means there is more money to restore habitat, we all support it,” he said.

Kloepfer, who describes himself as a reluctant optimist, said he hopes the legislation will be signed into law. He added that it was encouraging to see that the bill had some bipartisan support.

“It really needs to be passed,” he said. “This is our best chance in sight to make that happen.”

The legislation was approved by the House and Senate Committee. It must now be submitted to the Senate for a vote.

Senator Tim Kaine, speaking to The Virginian-Pilot, said the measure has his support.

“Our wildlife is integral to Virginia’s unique biodiversity, the traditions of tribal communities, and the vitality of our local economies,” he said. “That’s why we must do everything we can to ensure that our fish and our wildlife will be there for future generations of Virginians to enjoy.”

Katie King, katie.king@virginiamedia.com

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