Ohio Conservation Summary

Wrapping around the major industrial cities that for many characterize Ohio are a diversity of natural landscapes. From the Allegheny plateau to the east across the prairies and beech forests on the plains in the west, and from the northern boreal remnants and the Lake Erie coastal region in the north, to the bluegrass region in the south, natural habitats retain a diversity of plant and animal species and native plant communities.

Ohio’s natural landscape has been and continues to be greatly affected by agricultural, industrial and urban development. Over 90 percent of Ohio’s pre-European settlement wetlands have been destroyed, including most of western Lake Erie’s extensive wetlands and the vast great black swamp in northwestern Ohio. The vast majority of Ohio’s forests were cut down and converted to other uses. Most of Ohio’s current natural areas exist as isolated remnants of pre-settlement plant communities.

There are two areas today in Ohio with an especially high concentration of biodiversity and relatively intact ecosystems: the oak openings region west of Toledo and the Arc of Appalachia, an extensive area of Limestone and dolomite barrens and prairies in the south-central part of the state. Both areas have become the focus of great interest for conservation initiatives.

Threats

Ohio’s remaining natural plant communities face a grave threat from invasive plant and animal species. Lake Erie’s ecology has been dramatically altered by invaders such as the zebra and Quagga mussels and round goby fish. Ohio forests are changing character drastically as bush honeysuckles and garlic mustard invade and replace spring wildflowers. Wetlands are converting to giant reed grass, reed canary grass, glossy buckthorn and purple loosestrife, making them inhospitable to migrating waterfowl. At least 50 invasive plant species are considered to pose varying degrees of threat to Ohio’s natural areas. Land management agencies expend vital resources on invasive species control.

Public and Private Conservation Efforts

Over 1.2 million acres in Ohio are currently under permanent protection by federal, state and local governments as well as private conservation organizations. These areas protect a variety of natural plant communities, such as bogs and fens, Lake Erie beaches, prairies and sedges meadows, gorges filled with hemlocks, and a diverse array of upland and riparian forests and swamps.

Conservation efforts in the state are being mounted by an array of public agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Division of Natural Areas & Preserves, and the Division of Wildlife of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Active private conservation organizations include The Nature Conservancy, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Highlands Nature Sanctuary, the Audubon Society and many others. Locally, numerous county, regional and local park districts, and at least 40 regional land trusts are also tackling the need to protect natural landscapes. For example, Toledo Metroparks passed a levy that allowed them to purchase many hundreds of acres of fast-disappearing habitats, such as sand barrens and wet prairies, in the oak openings region west of Toledo.

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