Virginia's flora and fauna are among the most diverse to be found anywhere in the temperate latitudes of the earth. Virginia has been called an "ecological crossroads" for its vast range of distinctive natural communities, physiographic regions and natural features. Here, southern and northern ecosystems are found in proximity.
Within Virginia's borders are found lush cove forests and desert-like barrens of the western hills, expansive caves and springs of the Shenandoah Valley, plunging streams and boreal forest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, singular peaks rising form the rolling topography of the Piedmont, pristine freshwater tidal marshes along the tributaries of the unique Chesapeake Bay and the coastal plain's distinctive pocosins, cypress swamps and barrier islands. From the Cumberland Plateau to the Eastern Shore the Commonwealth encompasses a tremendous diversity of natural communities supporting an impressive array of plant and animal species, some of which occur nowhere else on earth.
Much of the character of Virginia has been altered by man since the early settlers of colonial times were first greeted by Virginia's continuous wilderness. Virginia is being transformed progressively into a cultural landscape which threatens the natural history of the Commonwealth. As a result of these changes, many species lead an uncertain and tenuous existence, surviving in fragments of their natural habitat, or as marginal species in a changing environment. Some 500 plants (nearly 20% of Virginia's flora) and many insect species have been identified as state species of "special concern" which because of their extreme rarity, could be lost from the state's flora and fauna if some measures of protection are not taken.
Two state agencies, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have legal authority for endangered and threatened species and are responsible for their conservation in Virginia. A third state agency, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage produces an inventory of the Commonwealth's natural resources, and maintains a data bank of ecologically significant sights.
In 1979, the Endangered Plant and Insect Species Act, Chapter 10 §3.2-1000 through 1011 of the Code of Virginia, as amended, mandated that the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services conserve, protect, and manage endangered and threatened species of plants and insects. The impetus for and original intent of the legislation was to provide Virginia with federally required legislation to control the export of American ginseng.
When the act was passed, it listed ginseng as threatened and Virginia round-leaf birch as endangered. Under the provisions of the Virginia Endangered Plant and Insect Species Act, there are now fourteen plants listed as endangered and one plant species listed as threatened. Also, there are currently 115 plant and insect species in Virginia that are federally listed as endangered or threatened throughout their range or designated as Species of Concern. Included in this total of federal species are seven threatened plant species, one threatened insect species, seven endangered plant species, one candidate species, fifty plant species of concern and fifty insect species of concern.
The Virginia Endangered Plant and Insect Species Program personnel cooperates with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage and other agencies and organizations on the recovery, protection or conservation of listed threatened or endangered species and designated plant and insect species that are rare throughout their worldwide ranges. In those instances where recovery plans, developed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, are available, adherence to the order and tasks outlined in the plans are followed to the extent possible.
EPA Endangered Species Protection ProgramThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented the Endangered Species Protection Program, which is designed to reduce the potential risk from pesticide applications to federally listed threatened and endangered species and their critical habitats. In Virginia, the program is administered by the Office of Pesticide Services in the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Click here for more information regarding this new, mandatory program.