- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

RICHMOND (AP) — The peregrine falcon, the loggerhead sea turtle and hundreds more species are declining in Virginia, says a first-of-its-kind report.

“There are lots of species showing declines. That tells us something is wrong,” said David Whitehurst, director of wildlife diversity for the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

In all, 925 species are dropping in numbers or are otherwise imperiled, according to the draft report from the department. Department staff will ask the agency board to approve the report today.

The reasons for the declines: habitat destruction; disturbance of habitats, for instance, by road construction; and water pollution that hurts fish and other aquatic animals.

Many of the animals already reside on federal and state lists of endangered or threatened species. They include the loggerhead sea turtle, which is imperiled by coastal development that destroys its nest sites, and the piping plover.

Still, the report lists some unexpected species that are in trouble.

They include the box turtle, a brown-and-yellow reptile that is threatened by development. Many also are captured for the overseas pet trade.

The whippoorwill, which calls its name repeatedly on spring nights in the country, nests on the ground and dies out when development takes over once-rural lands.

“They are not around here anymore; you rarely hear one,” said John Coe, a Chesterfield County naturalist who helped provide bird expertise for the report.

The bobwhite quail also is heard less because of the destruction of fields that it inhabits, among other problems.

Protecting animals before they become rare is good for the public, Mr. Whitehurst said. If an animal goes on the federal endangered-species list, its habitat is federally protected, and that could affect people’s property rights.

“One major emphasis behind this work is to keep common animals common,” he said.

Local governments could use the report in planning development, Mr. Whitehurst told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The report calls for actions such as protecting wild lands, reducing pollution and increasing funding to aid wildlife.

The staff prepared the report with the help of specialists from other state and federal agencies, universities and nonprofit groups.

The more than 900-page, 3-inch-thick report took 18 months to compile.

All states are preparing similar reports to continue receiving certain federal wildlife-protection grants. The grants have totaled $1 million to $1.5 million a year for Virginia since 2001, Mr. Whitehurst said.

He said he hopes to secure an increase in the federal grants to step up Virginia’s wildlife-protection programs.

The game department plans to hire a person by early next year to help put the report’s recommendations into action. For the effort to succeed, the game department will need to work with other agencies and nonprofit groups, such as the Nature Conservancy, Mr. Whitehurst said.

Populations of game animals, such as deer and bears, are regulated through hunting, and their numbers are generally in good shape.

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