In a swirling snowstorm, Bob Duncan patiently waits to sign in at the Radford Arsenal alongside Betsy Stinson, a district wildlife biologist of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Stinson coordinates deer hunts that take place each year on the 2,400-acre site, where the U.S. Army stockpiles different types of ammunitions inside a plethora of underground bunkers.
In 1985, Duncan and other department employees helped negotiate the agreement that allows hunting on the former farmland.
Peering through windshield wipers whipping away snow, Duncan, a Radford native, says gleefully, "This is perfect. Any day is perfect when you're in this neck of the woods." Duncan points out a herd of deer as they bobtail across the mountainside, then twists his head, owl-like, to catch a glimpse of seven spooked turkeys flushed from under the pines by the vehicle's approach.
"All right, Betsy," he hollers. "Give the signal to let the bears out, will you?" Laughing like a child during recess, Duncan points out areas along the edge of the arsenal fence where he hunted as a teenager and tells how he almost ditched the family car in a snowbank when he failed to leave the woods expeditiously.
He grows serious when approaching one of the ramps for disabled hunters, pointing out that wounded veterans have hunted here as well. This year's hunt brought people from nine states, some from as far away as Michigan. Based on a quota system, hunters applied for one of the 280 slots to hunt on one of eight designated days during the past season and ended up bagging 102 deer.
"This has been called one of the 10 best public deer hunts in the country," Duncan says. "The meat either goes home with the hunter or is donated to Virginia food banks."
Along with deer management, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries monitors other wildlife at the arsenal, including the Henslow's sparrow and the regal fritillary, very rare species of bird and butterfly, making sure their natural habitat stays healthy.
Stinson, a former wildlife toxicology researcher, joined the game department in 1989. She and Duncan teamed up to help rid the state of a pesticide that Virginia farmers used in their cornfields.
"It started in 1985, when bald eagles began dying from a pesticide called Furadan (granular carbofuran)," Stinson explains. "In 1991, we began a monitoring program to investigate effects of the pesticide on wildlife, particularly birds. We asked farmers to notify us when they planned to apply the chemical. We actually walked 44 crop fields on 11 farms in nine counties following applications, primarily in the coastal plain area east of Richmond."
Collected data showed a kill of numerous birds on 10 of the 11 farms every time the chemical was applied. The 11th farm was unique in that the treated field was not searched until 10 days after the chemical application. Secondary poisoning also was noted. After Duncan presented the report to the newly formed Virginia Pesticide Control Board, its first action was to impose an emergency ban on the chemical in July 1991.
"This product was worth millions of dollars to the manufacturer," Duncan adds, "but one grain would kill a robin-sized bird."
About 700,000 pounds of the pesticide was used in Virginia in 1990.
"It was estimated that we saved more than a million birds a year because the pesticide was banned," Duncan says. "The following week, not coincidentally, the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of it nationwide."