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Wildlife Diversity Unit, the Endangered Species Program and Natural Heritage Program

The mission of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is to provide and administer a long-range comprehensive program for the exploration, conservation, development, protection, enjoyment and use of the natural resources of the State of West Virginia.
In fulfilling the agency mission, the Wildlife Diversity Unit (WDU) is responsible for conserving, restoring, and protecting the state's nongame wildlife resources through the identification and management of nongame species and their habitats. The WDU also seeks to inform and educate the public about the state's natural resources, promote conservation, and enhance recreational opportunities. The State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) provides overarching guidance for this charge.

Photo by Chuck Waggy

The West Virginia Wildlife Diversity Unit and Natural Heritage Program are responsible for those species listed by the federal government as threatened or endangered, as well as nongame wildlife and their habitats. Through the SWAP, Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) and their habitats are identified, threats to SGCN are determined, and conservation plans are developed.

The 2015 West Virginia SWAP lists over 600 animal SGCN including amphibians, birds, butterflies & moths, cave invertebrates, crayfish, dragonflies & damselflies, fish, mammals, mussels, reptiles, snails, and tiger beetles.  The SWAP also identifies over 400 plant SGCN and addresses conservation issues affecting pollinators. For more information about the 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan and Species of Greatest Conservation Need go tohttp://www.wvdnr.gov/Wildlife/Action_Plan.shtm.

The SWAP identifies 21 Conservation Focus Areas (CFA’s) across the state where SGCN occur and where the greatest opportunities for conservation, restoration, and protection exist. The WDU is developing more specific plans for Conservation Focus Area that target species, stresses and and actions at a local scale. The SWAP and the CFA plans are public documents that can be used by people and groups to guide conservation actions and to leverage funding for large projects in their part of the state.  As CFA plans are developed they will be made available on the WVDNR website.  

Nongame wildlife resources are experienced and enjoyed through activities such as birdwatching, nature photography and educational experiences. To showcase these opportunities, the Wildlife Diversity Unit sponsors the West Virginia Master Naturalist Program. The mission of the West Virginia Master Naturalists is to train interested people in the fundamentals of natural history, nature interpretation and teaching, and to instill in them an appreciation of the importance of responsible environmental stewardship. The program develops a cadre of highly qualified volunteers to assist government agencies, schools, and non-government organizations with research, outdoor recreation development, and environmental education and protection.  For more information on the West Virginia Master Naturalists go to http://mnofwv.org/home.


Endangered Species

Photo by Isaac Gibson

Twenty one animal species and six plants occurring in West Virginia are currently listed by the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In 2016 the Guyandotte River Crayfish and the Big Sandy Crayfish were listed as endangered and threatened, respectively. In 2017 the Rusty patched Bumblebee was listed as endangered and was also confirmed as occurring in the state. Three species, the Cheat Mountain salamander, the Flat-spired three-toothed land snail, and Guyandotte River Crayfish are found in limited habitats only in West Virginia and nowhere else in the world. The Candy Darter, which occurs in south central West Virginia, was listed as endangered in 2018.

The Wildlife Diversity Unit is entrusted with the protection and management of these rare animals and plants. The WDU works closely with federal land management agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and with private landowners, to ensure these species continue to be a part of our state's fauna. The Wildlife Diversity Unit's efforts contributed to the recovery of and eventual de-listing of the Peregrine falcon (in 1999), the Bald eagle (in 2007), and the West Virginia northern flying squirrel (in 2013). For more information, go to Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species.

Natural Heritage Program
The WV Natural Heritage Program, founded in 1975, conducts an ongoing statewide ecological inventory of rare plant and animal species, wetlands and other ecological communities. The program identifies unique natural areas and serves as a clearinghouse for general information on the state’s natural history. Cooperative agreements for data acquisition and storage made with the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Defense are an important aspect of the program. In addition, the program works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor the status of the state’s rare, threatened and endangered plants and animals.

Photo by Brian Streets

The Natural Heritage Program strives to maintain a complete and accurate statewide assessment of rare species and ecological communities. This information is available to agencies, corporations and individuals for:

  • Environmental Impact Assessment
  • Ecological, taxonomic and other biological research
  • Resource Management
  • Endangered Species Review
  • Land Protection
  • Environmental Education

Click Here For Data Requests
The Natural Heritage Program also produces fact sheets, checklists, and reference material for use by biologists and the general public about native West Virginia wildlife, plants, and vegetation communities. Click here for (http://www.wvdnr.gov/wildlife/landscape.shtm http://www.wvdnr.gov/Wildlife/One_page_plants.shtm, http://www.wvdnr.gov/Wildlife/Factsheets/)

Wildlife Diversity Unit Funding
The Wildlife Diversity Unit derives its funding from several sources. Annual general revenue funds average about $1,000,000. In 1998, the first wildlife license plate, featuring a rose-breasted grosbeak, was offered to the public. This plate, along with the more recent additions of the white-tailed deer plate, the black bear, the bluebird, and the brook trout plates generate over $500,000 for the program. Another source of funding is the award winning West Virginia Wildlife Calendar.  Sales of the 2019 calendar were almost $114,000.

These funds are used to match available federal funding through the State Wildlife Grants Program, the Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program, and the Cooperative Endangered Species Fund (Section 6) Grants. Additional funding is received through compensation for the loss (“take”) of aquatic life in the state’s waterways. Finally, the WDU also partners with other state agencies and non-governmental organizations on grants for conservation projects of regional interest.

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