Outdoor Leader Series: Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward
This is the first in the Dispatches from the Potomac Outdoor Leader Series. From time to time, Dispatches will ask a few questions of someone who is having an impact on the state of our natural resources and the activities we love that surround them. Virginia’s newly appointed Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward is a native of Hampton, VA, a graduate of the UVA and William and Mary Law School, and a former two-term mayor of Hampton, VA. (Click here for her complete bio.) Excerpts from our email interview with Sec. Ward are below.
Secretary Ward, congratulations on your appointment, and thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for Dispatches from the Potomac. Like you, I am a Virginia native. One of the things I love most about my home state is how widely different it can be. From the Blue Ridge mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, from urban DC suburbs to rugged coal country in the southwest, Virginia has it all. What are some of the unique challenges in focusing on so many diverse issues, from water quality in suburbia to air quality in coal country and everything in between?
I like to view Virginia’s diversity as its greatest strength. There are unique challenges in focusing on a wide range of issues but those challenges serve to make us smarter and stronger.
Growing up on the water, the outdoors and activities like fishing and crabbing were a big part of your life. How important is it that more young people get involved in things like hunting and fishing?
I spent day after day crabbing off of my family’s pier on Sunset Creek in Hampton. I am still pretty good with a crab net. My Dad took us croaker fishing all the time. I remember coming home crispy fried from the sun (he never even thought about sunscreen) with bloodworm remnants on my clothes, exhausted but happy from those trips.
I think it is vitally important that we teach our children to appreciate the outdoors and to get involved in hunting and fishing. We need to ensure we are training the future environmental stewards of Virginia.
The House bill lifting the ban on Sunday hunting has passed and cleared through the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, and now seems to have at least a reasonable chance to pass on the Senate floor. Do you care to comment on the issue?
The Governor has expressed support for Sunday hunting.
This spring, Buchanan County will receive 50 more elk as part of that county’s elk restoration program. If that effort continues to be successful and eventually results in a self-sustaining herd, do you anticipate neighboring counties joining in to bring elk back to Virginia on a larger scale?
As a former local elected official, I believe that we need to leave as many individual decisions up to local governments as possible. If the counties neighboring Buchanan County would like to participate in an elk restoration program, I hope that we would be able to facilitate them being able to do that.
Another Virginia species recovery effort is the Bobwhite Quail. The decline of quail-friendly habitat due to development and farming, among other factors, is starting to be counteracted by landowners taking advantage of programs available such as CP-33, which helps defray the cost for farmers to provide habitat buffers for Bobwhite on cropland. Why are quail and other wildlife who thrive in early successional habitat important to Virginia, and apart from encouraging landowners to sign up, what else is being done by the state to increase that habitat?
We need to continue to work to educate the public about the importance of early successional habitat for Bobwhite Quail and other species. I believe DGIF is doing a great job in this regard but we can’t do it alone – we need landowners and the public to understand that a perfectly mowed field is not necessarily a good thing and that the habitat is important and vital for a variety of species.
Even though I did not grow up in rural Virginia, I remember the call of the Bobwhite as a child — before perfect lawns and mulched landscapes.
Is there anything in particular I haven’t mentioned that you are especially excited about working on as Secretary of Natural Resources?
I have a lifelong passion for the natural and historic resources of Virginia and to serve the Commonwealth as Secretary is a great honor and privilege.
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