Nature can’t do it by herself

Published 9:59 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2016

By Susan and Biff Andrews

We have written before in this space about how Virginians are blessed with governmental experts in departments at the federal, state, and local levels who protect our environment and natural resources.

They include the EPA and NOAA and the Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge at the federal level; the Department of Forestry, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Cooperative Extension Office at the state level; and the Suffolk Department of Parks and Recreation at the local level.

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They are understaffed and overworked. Thanks be to them for what they do.

Because these organizations are overwhelmed with responsibilities, it falls to volunteer groups to help in the fight to save our local lands and waters.

The best known are the big national associations — the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Fund, Ducks Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy. I’m sure you get regular mailings from them soliciting funds for their work.

But it’s the “little guys,” the grass-roots clubs and unpaid volunteers, who do most of the physical labor, often at their own expense.

Some may be garden clubs that maintain neighborhood green spaces and flowerbeds. Some may be special-interest groups like the Isaak Walton league or the Tidewater Anglers. Some blend professionals and amateurs, like the Watermen’s Association.

We are members of the Virginia Master Naturalists-Historic Southside Chapter. There are other chapters in Virginia Beach and on the Peninsula. We come under the aegis of the Cooperative Extension Office out of Virginia Tech.

There are three interesting aspects of our work — the members, the activities we participate in and the cooperation we share with other groups.

Our members are predominantly middle-aged professionals with college degrees and a great love of the outdoors fostered by their upbringing. Some are chemists. Many are teachers. Quite a few work in the medical field. Many have military backgrounds.

All members must go through 40 hours of class training and several field trips on land and water and then do 40 or more volunteer hours a year to be certified.

All are fascinating people, and all are fascinated by one or more aspects of nature. We have birders, bug hunters and herpetologists, but most of us just like to be in nature and improve it on every outing.

To that end we create projects, get them approved by our board and the state, and then carry them out using fellow volunteers and our own club dues or any grant money we may receive.

Some projects are scientific studies of salamanders or plants or water quality. Some are community oriented, such as the Pollinator Garden under construction at the Isle of Wight County office complex or the trails we’re creating at the Wakefield 4-H Center. Some are clean-up parties at Fort Boykin or Ragged Island or along the Blackwater River.

In many of these endeavors, we cooperate with local governments or groups of volunteers.

We test water with the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance. We help Rotarians monitor bluebird boxes. We work with the 4-H, Master Gardeners, and water agencies in outreach and education. We try to control or monitor invasive species.

No one group or state agency can do it all. We have to cooperate, and cooperate, we do. And we get things done.

Join one of our organizations. Work to save the planet — a cliche perhaps, but a necessary one. Mother Nature can’t do it by herself, either.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.