Strength In Numbers
By Brian McDonald
On any given day in the Mountain State , Marshall University graduate students may be researching amphibians, U.S. Forest Service biologists inventorying rare plants, and Division of Natural Resources wildlife biologists checking flying squirrel nest boxes. All of these researchers are gathering information in the field that will eventually be shared.
For years, the DNR Wildlife Resources Section has been gathering a considerable amount of information about the state's plant and animal species, and more recently, the state's ecological communities. But this task could not be undertaken without researchers at the state's colleges and universities, state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and interested volunteers. Fifteen million acres is a lot of ground to cover when attempting to understand the status of our biological resources.
The goal of this information gathering is to conserve native species and their habitats. Without the support of these groups and individuals, the DNR could not attempt to accomplish this task. The collections of animal and plant specimens maintained by state educational institutions, state and federal agencies, and even individuals, are valuable tools for understanding the historical occurrence and distribution of species around the state. Whether it be the hundreds of amphibian or mammal specimens in the Marshall University collections, or the thousands of plants at the West Virginia University herbarium, curators and their institutions have partnered with the DNR to share this irreplaceable information. Without this data, we wouldn't have known where to begin to assess the status of each species in the state.
The DNR also depends heavily on research being conducted by college-level personnel and supports them through various grant programs such as the Wildlife Diversity Research and Cooperative Grants.
Once we understand which species and habitats are in greatest need of conservation, then we must develop plans to actually conserve them. That is when working partnerships really come together. The Wildlife Resources Section has a long history of working with federal land managers, such as the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, to conserve biodiversity on their lands. We have worked with state parks and county governments to conserve the habitat of rare species such as those found in the swamps at Canaan Valley Resort State Park .
When it comes to private land conservation, The Nature Conservancy has long been a major partner in conserving biologically important lands in the state. An ongoing joint project with the Conservancy combines identifying unique habitats that harbor rare species and determining landowner interest in conserving those resources. More recently we have started working with local land trusts and watershed associations, such as the Cacapon and Lost River Land Trust and the Sleepy Creek Watershed Association to give them information on important resources in their areas of operation. Many other groups and individuals are essential to our mission – be it a high school student assisting with amphibian monitoring or a host of volunteers doing bird counts statewide.
Determining which species and their habitats are in need of conservation and then pursuing that goal is a large commitment. Wildlife Resources Section personnel salute the many people and organizations that partner with us to accomplish the task of conserving our natural heritage for future generations.
For more information about creating partnerships, as well as research grant opportunities, contact Brian McDonald or Jennifer Wykle at 304-637-0245.
--Brian McDonald is the Natural Heritage Program coordinator stationed in Elkins.