Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources is looking to expand its collaborative partnerships with artisans and craftsmen as part of a broader conservation initiative aimed at generating resources to expand outdoors participation and protect wild places.
Tom Wilcox, DWR’s director of engagement, explained the effort is part of a broader “The Outdoors are Better Together” campaign destined for full launch in 2021.
The department has operated an e-commerce page for several years, usually selling magazines, calendars and various products branded with something like the departmental logo. Future efforts, though, are expected to include a greater local flavor by establishing business partnerships with Virginia “makers.”
“These conservation collaborators are true artisans like knifemakers, artists, leather creators, embroiderers, and so much more. They are storytellers of their desire to keep our wild places wild, to sustain our natural resources for the next generation, and to be stewards of the outdoors,” Wilcox said, noting the collaborators include hunters, anglers, hikers and wildlife viewers. He called such individuals “tribal by nature.”
Initial partnerships include, among others, Join or Die, a knife-making company, and Tamarack Leather & Axe, which specializes in handmade leather products. Join or Die makes a Fieldmate knife with “Virginia Wildlife” stamped on the blade. The knife also incorporates a spent .22LR shell as part of the handle. Wilcox said net revenues from sales of Join or Die knives go to the Virginia Wildlife Grant program. Revenues from the annual — though cancelled this year — One-Shot Turkey Hunt also benefit the grant program. Since its inception, the grant program has raised more than $310,000 to get kids outdoors.
The department has a merchandising team, with a three-person nucleus. The COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted business as traditional supply chains were disrupted.
“Our team had to think and act differently. Supply chains from local makers operate much differently from a global supplier,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox explained that DWR buys a quantity of products from the local tradesperson or artisan and then markets it and sells it via the site. “We have a business-to-business agreement, in terms of quantity and price of the purchases,” he said.
One objective is to help DWR reach out to a broad community — new demographics—of potential outdoor enthusiasts.
“The new demographic relates to diversifying our customer base,” Wilcox said. “Our developing strategic plan will include diversity, equity and inclusion components, not just for employees but also constituents. There will be a big turnaround in our external focus.”
Expanding the community of local “makers” is a priority. Wilcox said he finds such people are creative, industrious and community-oriented — meaning the broader community in which they live. Wilcox said he enjoys meeting potential partners to learn more about their personal stories and what it is that drives their creative energies.
“Local makers are unique, very innovative in the way they do business. They often make you think of the world a little differently,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox said a new collaboration launched Wednesday with Blanchard’s Coffee in Richmond.
“Many people may wonder why we’re partnering with a coffee company,” he said. I answered that question for him noting that most hunters I know often bring an insulated thermos or mug of hot coffee into the deer or duck blind with them every frosty morning. Coffee and hunters go together like shotshells and shotguns.
“We bought a mug and are pairing it up with the coffee in terms of sales,” Wilcox said. “All proceeds will go to a program called Beyond Boundaries, which connects kids with disabilities to the outdoors. It’s a cause marketing effort with 100% of the revenues going to the program.”
Wilcox encourages artisans who fit in just about every niche to consider collaborating with DWR.
“Do you fit that local maker profile with a shared passion of the outdoors? Are you giving back to your community to inspire that connection to nature or just to make others better?” he asked. If so, go to VirginiaWildlife.gov/partnerships to get the conversation started.
To see the current lineup of partnered products, check out license.gooutdoorsvirginia.com/Shop/Inventory.
As might be predicted, some were expressing extreme displeasure on social media about the access fee requirement that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021 on all facilities, including boating access sites, managed by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.
For years, many considered these DWR boat ramps as “public,” meaning free. But they were never free. License and registration fees collected by the department always paid for their purchase and maintenance.
Now, as the saying goes, the playing field is leveling.
Anyone launching any type of watercraft at a DWR-managed access point must have a valid Virginia hunting, trapping, or fishing permit, a Restore the Wild membership, an access permit, or current certificate of boat registration issued by DWR. This does not apply to anyone under 17 years old or passengers with a permitted operator. The operator must have a permit.
For a more detailed overview, see dwr.virginia.gov/boating/access-faq.
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