By Chris Jones

Kendra Pednault cares deeply about wildlife and the ecosystems that support it. Her 20-plus year career is the proof in the pudding. She’s worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and within an environmental engineering firm doing land development consultation. And, for the past two years, she’s served as refuge manager at Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge in the Northern Neck, where she conserves, protects, and advocates for the areas native and migrant wildlife and green spaces.

“Wildlife preservation, to me, is acknowledging that wildlife and the habitats they depend on are as important, if not more so than most everything else we do,” says Pednault, who holds a Master of Science in Ecology from the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore and a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife and Fisheries from Texas A&M. “I feel like wildlife has a right to be here and somebody needs to be a voice for them.”

That interdependence between wildlife and its habitats is by definition an ecosystem. In the upper Northern Neck, a peninsula dividing the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers that confluence at the Chesapeake Bay, preservation is different. Since the peninsula is rural, it’s important for farms and people living along waterways to understand how the downstream effect impacts wildlife.

“What we do in the areas here, the upland areas, goes downstream [to the Chesapeake Bay],” said Pednault.

They encourage farmers to install riparian buffers—vegetation planted or purposed to protect streams and other waterways from land use. If not installed, it can have severe consequences for downstream aquatic life. Species dependent upon this ecological practice are oysters, some juvenile fisheries, birds that eat fish, and people that use the water.

“We work with farmers, or some of our partners work with them, and say, ‘You need riparian buffers to any wetlands that you have so if there’s a big rain event, and the soil wants to run off, it’s stopped by this riparian buffer. If not, that small little soil gets into the water, into the tributary which gets into the Rappahannock, and then ultimately it settles out on the vegetation or decreases the submerged aquatic vegetation,” said Pednault.

These downstream effects aren’t limited to farmers, nor does one hard rain or torrential downpour create this imbalance. Homes landscaped to excess, or those with damaged or old septic tanks also add to the risk.

“I think it’s a cumulative effect of many things,” said Pednault. “If you put too much fertilizer on your lawn and that washes off into the river, or if we don’t have certain measures for sewage or septic tanks, or if they’re older and they leak.”

In the wild, the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge helps to preserve many species from tiny crickets to majestic bald eagles.

“We work a lot with, or try to work with, a lot of grassland species—grasshoppers, sparrows and meadowlarks. As for the pollinators in the grasslands, a lot of people are familiar with the monarch [butterfly]. We’re well-known for bald eagles. This part of Virginia is really important with large bald eagle populations. And we have them nesting and wintering. So we do what we can to protect the eagles,” she said.

“There are lots of fisheries in the area so people will come and fish for yellow perch, bass or crappie. And then in our forest, we have other birds; we might work on bobwhite quail or prothonotary warblers. Box turtles are a species that everybody loves and have been slightly declining. There are a lot of amphibians, frogs and salamanders. And we have wood ducks and marsh wrens.

In order to conserve wildlife and preserve its ecosystem, it takes an all hands-on deck approach. Pednault relies on several key organizations.

“We work closely with the Friends of the Rappahannock, the Conservation Fund, the Chesapeake Conservancy, and the Department of Wildlife Resources, which is Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, their biologists, their conservation officers. We have a nonprofit called the Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge Friends, and they are an NGO (non-governmental organization) formed specifically to help us. And, so they recruit a lot of volunteers and do a tremendous amount of activities on the refuge. They’re a very hands-on group and they’ve built a lot of the viewing platforms and the fishing piers and a lot of the structures that are out there when the visitors come, and we certainly couldn’t do what we do without them,” she said.

For people wishing to volunteer, Pednault said Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge Friends actively fundraise and mobilize a volunteer force. Opportunities include helping with invasive species control, assisting with wildlife surveys, data entry, IT, maintenance, building structures and planting gardens.

“The Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge Friends accept donations to use for projects that we’ve identified that we need help with, and we have lots and lots of volunteers and volunteer opportunities coordinated by our Friends group,” said Pednault.

Interested in learning more about how you can help conserve wildlife in the Upper Norther Neck? Visit Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge Friends at rwrfriends.org.

Sidebar/Footer Call Out:

Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge has been redoing its hunting and fishing plan. A draft is expected this spring for public for comment. As of now, only white-tail deer hunting exists, and in the future, there is talk about opportunities for additional species. Anyone interested in hunting should visit fws.gov/refuge/Rappahannock_River_Valley.