The Commonwealth of Virginia owns a statewide system of Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) comprising more than 203,000 acres located in all geophysical regions. These lands are held in trust by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and managed to conserve and enhance habitats for Virginia’s native wildlife species. Where feasible and compatible with habitat conservation goals, public access is provided and many citizens of the Commonwealth view WMAs as places to experience wildlife habitats at their very best. Anecdotal observations suggest that visitation has increased and diversified over the past few decades, but dependable information on users is not available. Accordingly, the Department initiated a study of WMA users and their opinions related to management practices in 2009, and finished it in October 2011.
As Virginia’s social, demographic, and economic environments have changed, the public’s interest in WMAs also has changed. During recent decades, DWR has received requests to provide an increasing number of more diverse public recreation opportunities on WMAs. Although some of these new desired uses appear to be compatible with habitat management goals, others may not. The historic and continuing goal of Virginia’s WMA management program is to: Maintain and enhance habitats that support game and nongame wildlife while providing opportunities to hunt, fish, trap, and view wildlife. Other uses of WMAs may be allowed, as long as they do not interfere with these goals and uses of WMAs.
The public input process for developing the Goals and Principles for Virginia’s Wildlife Management Areas included the following:
- more than 4,000 face-to-face personal interviews with visitors at 10 selected WMAs (September 2009–2010)
- four focus group meetings with representatives of key stakeholder groups (October 2010)
- a follow-up mail and internet survey with interview participants who agreed to participate (March–April 2011)
- five public workshops for people who utilize the WMAs (March 2011), and
- a 4-week open public solicitation for comments on a draft of the goals and principles for Virginia’s WMAs (August–September 2011). The WMA technical committee met on September 29, 2011, to consider public comments and revise the WMA goals and principles.
We incorporated input gathered from all phases of the public input process into the development and revision of the WMA goals and principles, which were intended to guide land management activities on WMAs and provide broad guidance for the development of site-specific land management plans on individual WMAs. The goals and principles focus primarily on the habitat, wildlife population, and human use components of wildlife management. No attempt was made to craft detailed management goals and objectives, and strategies to attain them, as these will be identified in site-specific WMA management plans. Revisions made to the goals and principles based on public comments included adding a conditional statement as an introduction to each goal that clearly states the historic and continuing priorities for WMA management, improving the clarity and understanding of terminology used in the document (e.g., social acceptance, wildlife-based recreation) by providing specific definitions or more detailed descriptions, establishing as a priority the important role of active habitat management practices on WMAs, and making more explicit the importance of hunting, fishing, and trapping as integral parts of WMA management and recognizing these uses as a priority on WMAs.
The goals and principles for Virginia’s WMAs include:
- Habitat goal: maintain, create, or enhance a variety of high quality habitats, suited to the site, that support healthy and diverse populations of game and nongame wildlife at optimum levels.
- Habitat principles recognize the necessity for implementing active land management strategies and practices.
- Wildlife population goal: establish and manage populations of game and nongame wildlife compatible with maintaining habitat integrity, providing recreational opportunity, and serving the needs of the citizens of Virginia.
- Wildlife population principles include ensuring the sustainability of both game and nongame wildlife using hunting, trapping, and fishing as primary means of achieving wildlife population objectives.
- Recreation goal: provide opportunities for wildlife-based recreation (hunting, fishing, trapping, wildlife viewing) and boating consistent with maintaining and enhancing wildlife habitat and populations.
- Recreation principles include prioritizing and continuing the historic emphasis given to wildlife-based recreation, while allowing other forms of recreation as long as they do not interfere with wildlife-based recreation activities.