NATURE NOTES - Number 30 October 14,2021
OUR CURRENT TOPIC: Wildlife Success Stories
We hear so much today about endangered species, loss of habitat, disappearing birds, etc., maybe we should stop for a minute and think about the good news in wildlife management. These stories don’t get a lot of press, but it’s important for scouts to know that we have had a lot of success in saving species and restoring populations in spite of continued land development and human population increase. Let’s look at few success stories in our own area. Some of these are by design, while others are examples of how resilient nature can be.
Deer: When I worked at our scout camps in the 1960’s, I don’t ever recall seeing a deer at camp. Today, you sometimes have to dodge them on the camp trails. The Virginia deer population in the mid-1930’s was estimated at 25,000. Today it is estimated to be almost 1 million and rapidly growing. This is a species that has certainly recovered.
Black Bear: The first wild bear I ever saw was in the Great Smokey Mountains in the 1950’s. That’s where you had to go to see a bear – if you were lucky. Now you can see them in camp, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, in downtown Roanoke, and on your deck. In Virginia, they inhabit most counties, and number somewhere around 6000 and are increasing. The North American population is around 900,000,
Turkey: A very early success story going back to the early 1900’s when the wild turkey population was plummeting. After a series of ups and downs, research, restocking, and habitat management, Virginia’s population today is estimated to be 180,000 and increasing in most counties. They are common on the scout reservation.
Bald-eagle: In 1963 there were 417 known nesting pair in the U.S. By 2020, that number was 9700, including approximately 400 in Virginia, and growing rapidly. Most are around the Chesapeake Bay, but nests far inland are now becoming common. Eagles have been seen at Camp Powhatan, Claytor Lake and Smith Mountain Lake.
Elk: Native elk were hunted out of Virginia by the late 1800’s. Kentucky began restocking elk in 1997, and almost immediately, they were crossing into Virginia. However, for a number of reasons, the herd did not succeed. But in in 2012-2014 restocking was started by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources with 75 animals introduced into Buchanan, Wise, and Dickerson Counties. This time: success! The herd is currently around 250 animals. Sightings in other counties suggest elk are again wandering in from Kentucky due to the growth of that population. There are now several new elk viewing stations in Buchannan County on former restored strip-mine sites. This has opened up a whole new, and much needed, tourist attraction to the area: elk watching. A big step since 2012.
There are many other success stories as well: Red wolves in North Carolina; Grizzlies and wolves out west; Bluebirds, Peregrine Falcons, Canada Geese, various wading birds in our area; and Brown Pelicans on the coast of Virginia. Some of you may remember the famous snail darter fish that blocked the construction of dams along the Tennessee River several years ago. It has recently been recommended for removal from the Endangered Species List as it is no longer in danger of extinction. Over 50 plant and animal species have been removed from the list since the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973.
Make sure scouts know that we are winning many of the efforts to protect or restore wildlife in spite of growing human populations and expanding urban sprawl. It’s not all doom and gloom. Yes, there are still many challenges out there, and success may not always prevail, but as we become smarter about species biology and needed habitats, and as people learn about the value of wildlife, we will continue to try and save it. As discussed in earlier notes, the love and understanding of nature can help many species as we continue to research and establish policy. Maybe there is a scout in your unit that needs to understand that there is good news in saving wildlife, and he or she might want to join that effort rather than mourn the losses of species we have lost due to lack of knowledge. A label of threaten or endangered species is not a death certificate in many cases. Keep the faith!
Do a little research and see if there is a place near-by where you go and likely see eagles. Have your scouts make a list of species that have or are being recovered. Start with the list above. Have them learn about what was done to save the population. Some merit badge requirements can be met here. Scouts have no idea that deer, bear and turkey were not common in this part of Virginia 50 years ago. Share with them the successes that have occurred.