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From the Wildlife Division

If you haven’t had a chance to meet him, please welcome the new Wildlife Division director Michael Lipford. Michael has been a longtime partner to DWR through leadership roles with The Nature Conservancy and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. Since arriving, he’s been impressed by the depth and breadth of wildlife programs and cooperation across divisions to deliver DWR’s mission. Division leadership is starting strategic planning to set priorities for work in wildlife management, human-wildlife conflict, wildlife health, habitat management, public access, and watchable wildlife. Michael has remarked that he admires the people across all parts of the agency, and especially those in the wildlife division, for their professionalism, dedication, and passion for wildlife conservation. To illustrate this, below are highlights of people that do the work and have been recently recognized for their impact and leadership.

Katie Martin, DWR’s Deer-Bear-Turkey Biologist, was recently honored with the Henry S. Mosby Award by the Virginia Chapter of The Wildlife Society for her outstanding contributions to wildlife conservation. Katie is a 12-year veteran of DWR and manages the complexities of a multi-species project leader with passion, initiative, outreach, and collaboration. She serves as a steady guide for other DWR wildlife, law enforcement, and outreach staff in resolving human-wildlife conflicts. Nelson Lafon, Deer-Bear-Turkey Manager, wrote in his nomination of Katie, “much of her success is due to her helpful nature, hard work ethic, and positive personality. A regional wildlife manager remarked on Katie’s cheerful assistance with orphaned cub issues in the busy spring season. She is sought out by staff from across all divisions and by partners for various outreach events because she presents a very positive image of the agency and for wildlife in Virginia.”

Marc Puckett, one of DWR’s Small Game Project Leaders with 25+ years of experience in quail and early successional habitat management, was inducted into the National Bobwhite and Grassland Initiative Hall of Fame. His talents as a field biologist are complemented well by his interpersonal skills, and he is an excellent writer, contributing to publications monthly. In nominating Marc for this award, Jay Howell, the other Small Game Project Leader, said that Marc’s impact has left indelible marks on this agency and partnerships to conserve quail and restore habitat in Virginia and throughout the southeast. Jay added “he is an amazing human being who has inspired the careers of many employees and peers. Few are more humble, friendly, or approachable.” Marc was instrumental in launching and continues to coordinate Virginia’s Quail Council, co-authored the Commonwealth’s Quail Action Plan and revisions, and manages several private lands biologists that work to restore habitat for wildlife.

Jordan Green, DWR District Biologist in Region 4, is co-leading a project on wildlife-vehicle conflicts (WVC) in Loudoun County (which experiences the highest number of deer-vehicle conflicts in the state) with students from the University of William and Mary (UMW). Last year, this effort identified the top 10 priority road sections in Loudoun County for WVC reduction strategies, as well as the design of a citizen science application to collect wildlife road mortality data. Currently, UMW students are deploying trail cameras along the priority road sections to further pinpoint the best locations for installing wildlife crossing infrastructure, such as road fencing and underpasses. This joint DWR-UMW project was recently presented at the Environment Virginia Symposium. Also presenting at this symposium was Jackie Rosenberger (Elk Project Leader) who jointly provided a presentation with the Virginia Department of Transportation about where wildlife crossings are needed to protect elk and provide for driver safety along a new 14-mile stretch of U.S. Route 460 in Buchanan County.

Ben Sagara, DWR’s Wetlands Biologist, is the only dedicated wetland scientist among the Commonwealth’s resource agencies working to implement voluntary wetland restoration projects across Virginia. His unique role is a key factor in DWR recently being identified as the lead agency to guide Virginia towards meeting its Chesapeake Bay wetland goals. In addition, DWR’s Wetland, Lands and Access, and Nongame Programs have a strong focus on wetland restoration on the Eastern Shore to support at-risk species conservation and to assist with marsh resiliency and migration in the face of climate-driven sea level rise. A notable example is occurring on the Doe Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and Saxis WMA where DWR is restoring marshes for the federally threatened Eastern Black Rail using the tools of habitat creation, invasive plant control, prescribed fire, and ecological monitoring.

Carl Tugend (DWR Black Bear Project Leader), Katie Martin (DWR Deer-Bear-Turkey Biologist), and Dr. John Tracey (DWR Wildlife Veterinarian) are working with Virginia Tech on a black bear mange research project that began field operations in May. Two project areas (mange area: Nelson, Augusta, Rockbridge, Botetourt and non-mange area: Grayson, Smyth, Wythe) will have hair snare corral traps and trail cameras deployed to begin the mark-recapture portion of the project. Trapping of bears for collaring in both project areas will begin later in the summer.

In the Lands and Access section, Emma Belling is stepping up as the new Chair for DWR’s Prescribed Fire Team. There are three positions within the fire committee leadership team: One Chair and two Co-chair positions. This leadership group is responsible for keeping the statewide fire crew organized, ensuring fire crew members meet minimum qualification standards, and communicating information effectively to all staff interested in prescribed fire across the agency. This group also serves as a conduit between DWR leadership and fire crew members.  Several burns were recently  implemented at WMAs: Clinch Mountain, Mattaponi, Featherfin, and Big Woods to name a few. Matt Kline (Region 4 Lands and Access Manager) helped lead a DWR team to work with the Virginia Department of Forestry on wildfire suppression in Page County. Joe Collins (Eastern Shore Manager of WMAs), with guidance from Clay Ferguson (new Region 1 Lands and Access Manager), is developing a public access plan and implementing access infrastructure for the 8,000-acre Coastal Forest WMA, one of DWR’s newest WMAs.

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  • July 1, 2024