Wildlife viewing, defined as intentionally observing, feeding birds, photographing wildlife, or visiting or maintaining natural areas because of wildlife, is one of the most popular outdoor recreation activities in the United States. The 2016 National Survey of Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation reported that there are approximately 86 million wildlife viewers aged 16 or older in the U.S. and participation in wildlife viewing has been increasing since the mid-1990s. Consistent with national trends, the Rockville Institute reported that in 2016, about 35% of Virginia’s population viewed wildlife, amounting to 2.1 million wildlife viewers in the state.
What is the Virginia Wildlife Viewing Plan?
Adopted in 2021, the Virginia Wildlife Viewing Plan is the DWR’s first comprehensive plan developed to guide the agency in engaging with and supporting wildlife viewing. This resource is the culmination of a 3.5-year collaborative effort between the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources and Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and was designed to steer the DWR’s efforts related to wildlife viewing through 2031.
The Wildlife Viewing Plan plan provides direction and priorities to orient the DWR’s efforts related to wildlife viewing, while also relying on the experience and expertise of agency staff and partners to define and implement specific tactics that will achieve the goals outlined for wildlife viewing in Virginia.
What are the goals of the Virginia Wildlife Viewing Plan?
The following goals capture overarching ideas about what the DWR should strive to accomplish related to wildlife viewing. Each goal is accompanied by multiple objectives, strategies, and potential tactics to help realize the goals. These details may be found in the full plan linked below.
Virginia Wildlife Viewing Plan Goals:
1. Connect diverse segments of the public to wildlife and wildlife viewing in Virginia
DWR’s mission directs the agency to connect people to Virginia’s outdoors through a variety of activities, specifically including wildlife viewing. Engaging diverse communities is both a priority for DWR as well as a necessity to fulfill agency directives to govern wildlife resources as a trust for all members of the public. Goal 1 of the Wildlife Viewing Plan focuses on increasing participation in wildlife viewing by underrepresented groups and youth and families; supporting viewers with little or no experience so they form enduring connections to wildlife and viewing; and connecting other outdoor recreation groups, such as paddlers and campers, to wildlife viewing.
2. Provide a variety of wildlife viewing opportunities accessible to all in the Commonwealth
Results from the Wildlife Recreation Survey indicated that wildlife viewers feel DWR can better serve them by providing more access to locations for viewing birds and other wildlife and more information about the locations, such as Wildlife Management Areas and the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail, that are already available. Goal 2 of the Wildlife Viewing Plan is oriented towards increasing opportunities for viewers to experience wildlife at destinations across the state and close to home.
3. Promote wildlife and habitat conservation through wildlife viewing
Virginia’s wildlife resources are a public trust, managed by DWR for the benefit of current and future generations. The capacity of wildlife viewers and other recreationists to advance wildlife conservation is central to the imperative for fish and wildlife agencies to meaningfully engage with these constituencies. Goal 3 of the Wildlife Viewing Plan seeks to maximize the connection between wildlife viewing and wildlife and habitat conservation by increasing opportunities for viewers to directly perform conservation activities and by cultivating a culture of responsible wildlife viewing in the Commonwealth.
4. Connect broader constituencies to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources through wildlife viewing
The explicit inclusion of wildlife viewing in DWR’s mission and R3 planning are evidence of increasing support within the agency for engaging with wildlife viewers as key constituents. The final goal of the plan focuses specifically on fostering mutual understanding and support between wildlife viewers and DWR. Objectives under this goal aim to increase viewers’ awareness of DWR and its relevance to their activities; promote two-way dialogue and trust between viewers and the agency; and increase financial connections between wildlife viewers and DWR’s conservation work.
How was the Virginia Wildlife Viewing Plan developed?
DWR initiated a multi-faceted process to develop this Wildlife Viewing Plan that included a participatory planning process and a three-part study of wildlife recreationists. It was co-produced by the Dayer Human-Dimensions Lab at Virginia Tech, a 15-member Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), composed of DWR staff, and a 14-member Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC), composed of individuals and organizational representatives with experience and interest in wildlife viewing in Virginia. The SAC and TAC worked together to develop a values statement as well as the series of goals, objectives, and strategies based upon the results of the Wildlife Recreation Study completed by Virginia Tech. The three-part study utilized focus groups, a random-sample survey of Virginia residents (with 1,016 responses), a survey of wildlife recreationists already affiliated with DWR (with 2,610 responses), and a web-based stakeholder analysis of other organizations and agencies that support wildlife viewing in Virginia. Broad promotion of the draft plan received over 350 public comments that were considered in a final plan revision. The final plan was formally endorsed by the DWR Board of Directors on May 27, 2021.