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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky Wild program supports endangered, threatened non-game wildlife

The Kentucky Wild program, launched during the summer of 2018 by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), directly supports non-game wildlife facing threats in our state.

Many wildlife species that we take for granted like have experienced long term population declines in recent decades, most notably songbirds, bats and amphibians.

Proceeds from membership in the program are used to help pay for the surveys and monitoring of endangered and threatened species, the purchase of research equipment, on-the-ground efforts to enhance the habitat necessary for the shelter, food, and nesting of these species, and to protect and improve habitat for pollinators and migrating birds.

We have over 1,700 members now,” said Laura Burford, a KDFWR administrator who works with biologists in the Kentucky Wild program. “What’s unexpected is that we have members from 32 states, including Kentucky. We’ve had a great response.”

A membership in Kentucky Wild will help ensure that future generations of Kentuckians can continue to enjoy our state’s diverse bounty of wildlife.

Overall, there are records of more than 1,000 wildlife species in Kentucky, including both recent and historical observations. Most of these animals are not hunted, fished for or trapped.

“In our State Wildlife Action Plan we have identified about 300 species of greatest conservation need,” said Burford.

Historically, more than 40 native species have been extirpated, which means they are no longer found in the state. Wildlife that has been observed historically means at one time in the past they were observed in Kentucky by a naturalist, but they may not be here now.

The overall management goal for these threatened and endangered species is to gain a better understanding of conservation threats and to develop recovery actions so that the best possible population numbers and distribution will be maintained.

Funding Sources

One reason the Kentucky Wild program was created was to boost funding for the management of these threatened and endangered non-game species.

The management of game species such as deer, bear, elk and waterfowl, is funded by a revenue stream from license sales, stamps, and excise taxes levied on the sale of firearms, fishing tackle and associated outdoors gear.

Whereas, fewer dollars are available for the management of non-game species such as raptors, reptiles, amphibians, and songbirds. Typically the bulk of these funds come from agency budgets.

But, if state Wildlife Action Plans are updated with new findings, the states can receive federal money, in the form of annual state wildlife grants. But, this revenue stream often varies from year-to-year, making it very difficult for wildlife managers working on long-term survey and recovery projects.

Kentucky Wild Membership Benefits

Kentucky Wild members have the opportunity to go out in the field and work side-by-side with biologists on wildlife-saving projects and receive Kentucky Wild logo gear such as posters, stickers, field notebooks to log wildlife observations, bandanas and tote bags.

Members also receive a quarterly newsletter that covers a wide range of topics including highlights of wildlife species, biologist and member profiles, and project updates.

There are six Kentucky Wild membership levels, ranging in price from $25 to $1,000 a year. For membership details, visit the KDFWR website at: app.fw.ky.gov

Ongoing Kentucky Wild Projects

Some of the ongoing non-game Kentucky Wild projects include:

Loggerhead Shrike Painting by JJ Audubon (From Wikipedia Commons)

• The Loggerhead Shrike is a songbird who shares a few raptor-like qualities, including hunting vertebrate prey.

Loggerhead shrikes impale their prey (from insects to mice) on barbed wire or thorns in order to consume their quarry, coining the nickname “butcherbird” or “thorn bird.”

KDFWR biologists are part of an international effort to study this unique species through color-banding, feather collection, and population monitoring.

The Loggerhead Shrike nests in Kentucky, and birds from the northern states winter here.

• Freshwater mussels improve water quality and are an important food source for many animals.

The healthiest streams are those with large, diverse mussel populations.

Kentucky is home to some of the best mussel habitat in the world, and KDFWR’s Center for Mollusk Conservation, founded in 2002, is working to restore and recover rare and imperiled freshwater mollusks in Kentucky.

The center’s staff has worked with over 70 species of freshwater mussels with a primary focus of conservation, restoration, culture and propagation of freshwater mussels, with emphasis on the mussel-rich 384-mile Green River.

(Eastern Hellbender (Photo by John MacGregor KDFWR)

• The Eastern Hellbender is an endangered amphibian that once was found in half of Kentucky’s 120 counties.

The emphasis now is on surveying historical records of where they once were and trying to determine where they are now and to assess populations and the breeding success of this long-lived species.

The Eastern Hellbender is completely aquatic and lives in shallow rocky streams with good water quality. They can grow to 24 inches long, are not aggressive or poisonous, and can live for 30 years.

Monarch Butterfly (Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

• The iconic Monarch Butterfly is facing unprecedented population declines of nearly 90 percent in the last 20 years.

Biologists are installing pollinator gardens to provide food and habitat, and capturing and tagging the butterflies to study their migrations.

Amazingly, the Monarch Butterfly, an insect, migrates all the way to central Mexico to winter, some 2,500 air miles.

The Kentucky Wild program is a great opportunity for Nature lovers who don’t hunt or fish to partner with KDFWR, to learn about what’s being done to save and protect imperiled wildlife throughout our state.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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