• Ken Perrotte

Virginia's Department of Wildlife Resources Seeking Creative Partnerships with Artisans

Updated: May 9

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 sells a variety of things on its ecommerce page, everything from knifes to calendars to caps to magazine subscriptions. Future ecommerce efforts, though, are expected to include a greater local flavor by establishing business partnerships with Virginia “makers.”


Wilcox explains that the conservation collaborators the agency is seeking are people who are true artisans like knifemakers, artists (folk and fine art both), leather creators, embroiderers, sculptors, 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.”


So far, partnerships have been forged with small companies such as 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 (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.


Wilcox said the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted DWR supply chains and offered and opportunity for the agency's merchandising team to reevaluate how and where they were doing business. “Our team had to think and act differently. Supply chains from local makers operate much differently from a global supplier,” he said.


The way this new conservation collaborators approach goes is that DWR buys a quantity of products from the local tradesperson or artisan and then markets it and sells it via the ecommerce site. “We have a business-to-business agreement, in terms of quantity and price of the purchases,” he said. One new collaboration launched on Dec. 10, 2020: a partnership with Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Inc., a small business based in Richmond, Virginia. “Many people may wonder why we’re partnering with a coffee company,” Wilcox said. Hunters and anglers can easily answer that question. Most early-to-rise outdoors people often include a thermos or mug of hot coffee as part of their "must-have" morning staples. Hot coffee in a cold duck blind goes a long way to warding off morning chill. 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 wants to expand the program and inviteds any interested Virginia or nearby artisans working in any 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 www.VirginiaWildlife.gov/partnerships to get the conversation started.

To see the current lineup of partnered products, check out license.gooutdoorsvirginia.com/Shop/Inventory.