(NBC12)

By Jenny Oren

Driving down a country road winding through the countryside of eastern Virginia, I see my home in a new light: a valuable area with high ecological value, with land for people to enjoy and for wildlife to call home.

It makes me wonder why there aren’t more areas like this, both in Virginia and across the East Coast. And it makes me remember the root of my passion for conservation, and why I have spent the past six months working to develop and advocate for landmark wildlife conservation legislation here.

I am a policy intern with Wildlands Network , one of the leading environmental organizations supporting the passage of SB 1004 and HB 1695, or the Wildlife Corridor Action Plan, in Virginia. This legislation, introduced and supported by Sen. David W. Marsden and Delegate David L. Bulova, both of Fairfax County, will promote wildlife corridor protection across the commonwealth, improve road safety for Virginia’s citizens, protect biodiversity and work to meet Virginia’s conservation goals.

The action plan would direct the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Conservation and Recreation, to create a Wildlife Corridor Action Plan, which will identify wildlife corridors —  areas connecting fragmented wildlife habitats that are separated by human activities or infrastructure. The agencies will recommend wildlife crossing projects intended to promote driver safety and wildlife connectivity.

We have all seen a deer or a raccoon that met its unfortunate demise in a collision with one of thousands of vehicles that drive on Virginia’s roads each day. These casualties not only impact wildlife populations, but also pose a risk to Virginia residents. Each year there are more than 61,000 deer-vehicle collisions, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. Roads are essential to human movement, but can prove to be a huge and deadly obstacle to wildlife movement.

As a Virginia native and a student studying conservation biology at NC State University, my experience developing this legislation for the commonwealth has shaped my perceptions and outlook on the future of wildlife conservation. I have studied wildlife conservation science, the need for connected landscapes for wildlife movements and the crucial ecological functions of wildlife species in an ecosystem.

I know these fundamental requirements for a healthy ecosystem must be met, and legislation will be an important way to ensure this happens.

SB 1004 and HB 1995 is rapidly making its way through the Virginia legislature. On Feb. 4 the Virginia House passed the bill with a strong bipartisan 89-10 vote. The Senate exhibited similar approval, and we’re hoping for continued support to ensure the legislation makes it to the governor’s desk.

I am doing my part to spread the word about the importance of wildlife protection in my home state. I want to see fewer wildlife casualties on the road, and more herds of deer and wild turkey when I return home. The sights of these wild creatures are a sign of a healthy landscape, one that supplies crucial habitat for wildlife and green space for humans to enjoy as well.

Legislation like SB 1004 and HB 1695 would help make this possible —  leading the way to a safe Virginia for wildlife and people.

Jenny Oren is a policy intern at Wildlands Network.