Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021 - 33

P

LEFT: The Blue
Ridge Parkway's
easy-flowing 469
miles offer a variety
of habitats.
BELOW: Tom Davis
says he's been drawn
to nature for as long
as he can remember.
His earning of an
environmental science
degree coincided with
the park service's push
to tally plant and
animal species, and a
career was born.

ioneering wildlife biologist
Tom Davis knows the habitats, overlooks and critters of
the Blue Ridge Parkway better
than just about anyone. That's
because he's spent nearly 30
years tallying plant and animal
species, and working to improve land
management practices throughout the
469-mile corridor.
" It's definitely a dream job, " confides
Davis, who lives in Blacksburg, Virginia,
with his wife, Kathy. The National Park
Service hired him in 1994 to help with
the Parkway's first comprehensive wildlife
survey. He's since reconnoitered most of
its 93,390 acres.
" I worked hard and paid my dues to
get to where I am, " says Davis, " but it's a
rare occasion that I don't wake up in the
morning feeling blessed to be doing what
I'm doing. "
Monday may find him wading kneedeep through rare, high-elevation wetlands searching for endangered bog
turtles. Tuesday, listening for northern
saw-whet owls in an isolated old-growth
forest by moonlight. Wednesday, working

with farmers to tweak early-summer mowing schedules and boost breeding success
among grassland birds. The list goes on.
Here, we talk with Davis about what
it's like to spend so much time in one of
America's most beloved national treasures,
about 30 years of changes, pandemic closures-and why he thinks there's never
been a better time to visit the Parkway.
How did you come to work on the Blue
Ridge Parkway?
I've been drawn to nature and the outdoors for as long as I remember. But that
kicked into high-gear when I was 10,
when my parents bought 20 acres of undeveloped land in the eastern panhandle
of West Virginia. We started camping
there on most weekends, and my brother
and I spent all of our time exploring nearby woods, streams and fields.
Those experiences inspired me to
pursue a career in conservation. I started
working at Great Falls National Park with
the Youth Conservation Corps and wound
up getting a bachelor's degree in environmental science from Shepherd University.
I was lucky because, when I graduated, the National Park Service was going
through a kind of renaissance. There was
a big push to tally plant and animal species, and [use the data to] develop better
land management plans. I was able to get
jobs in places like Shenandoah National
Park helping with things like surveying
brook trout and exotic plant populations.
I hopped around doing surveys and other
things for various parks for about four
years, then got hired by the parkway as a
district biologist.
From a conservation standpoint,
how did things look when you started
working for the BRP?
Back then, nobody really knew [how
many different species of plants and animals were] living here, much less how
they were distributed. So, land management approaches were often sort of just
shooting in the dark.
And there was no comprehensive strategy at all. In one district, the lead ranger
might be interested in migratory songbirds. In another, reptiles. Well, they'd
focus on related species and habitats, and
leave the rest alone. Districts didn't col-

MAY/JUNE 2021

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Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021

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