Reclaiming ‘lost’ habitats

Extraction industries in West Virginia have left their mark on the land and its inhabitants — there is no debating that. Surface mines left some of the most visible scars. That, combined with other industries and development, has led to major changes — sometimes almost to the point of elimination — in the available habitat for species that once thrived in the Mountain State.

But as those lands are reclaimed, habitat that might have been thought lost forever is returning. And maybe, with a little help from humans, so are some of the species. Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan and Mingo counties sits on reclaimed surface-mined land. In 2016, the Department of Natural Resources reintroduced elk. (A report earlier this year suggested our elk herd is doing well, and enough calves have been born within the wildlife management area that DNR employees are trying to track them all down to put radio collars on them for study.)

Sometime next spring, bobwhite quail might be rejoining the mix. Habitat loss and harsh winters forced them out decades ago, but there is enough grassy savanna as a result of the mine reclamation process to provide that habitat again.

“We noticed we were lacking in brood-rearing habitat,” said Wildlife Manager Logan Klingler. So the DNR is taking some measures to make the land suitable for quails — adding a variety of plants for food and protection.

“Blackberry bushes will grow up and form hedgerows that break up the big fields and provide great escape cover for the quails,” he said.

Officials have a tentative agreement with Texas where, if you can believe it, they want some of our wild turkeys. We have so many, it is difficult for most West Virginians to imagine a place that would seek out wild turkeys. But then again, it is probably difficult for most Texans to imagine a place that would seek out wild quail.

As with the elk, the quails will be off limits to hunters until they are a self-sustaining population.

It is good to know this kind of work is being done, both to improve the variety of species that make West Virginia so wild and wonderful; but also to turn the scars of our state’s industrial past into something positive. It should serve as an inspiration to innovators in all fields to ask: What can we do to make the sometimes-negative legacy of the industries that served as the foundation of our economy for so long into something beautiful and good for the Mountain State?

Our state’s economy MUST diversify. We MUST look to the future, even if some politicians and bureaucrats are slower to the party than the rest of us. What better attitude to have in that regard than what the DNR has embraced? Take something that has been disfigured, broken, used up — many believed it wasn’t good for anything else; take a hard look at changes that could be made (and do the work to make them); have an open mind about the possibilities; and bring something beautiful back (or for the first time) to our state.

It can happen, folks; but only once we decide it will.

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Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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