In the mid-19th century, Ohio lawmakers had recognized the need for protecting the diversity of wildlife species present in the state. In 1857, the state’s first wildlife diversity law was passed that afforded protection from the intentional injury or death of any sparrow, robin, bluebird, thrush, mockingbird, swallow, catbird, or cardinal.
As time progressed, there became an increasing awareness that natural resources, such as animals, fish, trees, plants, rivers, and the like, needed protection and restoration if they were to ever survive. Additional laws were passed in subsequent decades and a state agency was created to manage the natural resources of the state.
Among the many areas of responsibility now shared by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and its Division of Wildlife is the enhancement of wildlife diversity. Today’s wildlife diversity program can trace its roots back to 1857, but more recently to passage of the state’s endangered wildlife law that was enacted in 1973. This law afforded even more protection along with federal laws that have given new attention and direction to wildlife diversity management.
In 1983, legislation was passed that created a special state income tax checkoff program. Through this program Ohio taxpayers have contributed millions of dollars for wildlife diversity management projects and the protection of scenic rivers, plants, and other wildlife species.
The Division of Wildlife, as part of its wildlife diversity management goals, has sought to reintroduce certain wildlife species that once were present in the state but were extirpated, or became absent for various reasons over the course of Ohio’s nearly 200-year history. River otters, ospreys, peregrine falcons, trumpeter swans, Karner blue butterflies, American burying beetles, pirate perch and snowshoe hares are among those species that have been reintroduced. Wildlife populations that have been protected and restored have included bale eagles, barn owls, Eastern Plains garter snakes, Western banded killifish, paddlefish, freshwater mussels, brook trout, and lake sturgeon.
The Ohio Wildlife Diversity and Endangered Species program funds also have enabled the Division of Wildlife to form partnerships with Ohio zoos that have included the creation of exhibits, displays, and curriculum to educate the public about Ohio’s native wildlife. A wetlands, migratory songbird, and reptile exhibits were developed in partnership with Columbus Zoo. The Otter Creek and bald eagle exhibits were developed in partnership with the Cincinnati Zoo. The Wolf Woods exhibit and the trumpeter swan reintroduction project have been delevoped through partnership with the Cleveland Zoo. The Backyard Birds and Frog Town, USA exhibits were developed in partnership with the Toledo Zoo.
The Division of Wildlife has produced and distributed various publications and educational materials to further educate the public about Ohio’s wildlife diversity. Most notable among these is the Ohio Wildlife Viewing Guide, developed through a national program known as Watchable Wildlife. The viewing guide provides wildlife viewing information and profiles of 79 designated viewing sites around the state.
Funding for these and other wildlife diversity program projects has come mainly from taxpayer contributions through the state income tax checkoff program. Additional revenues, which are used exclusively for wildlife diversity projects, come from sales of the cardinal and bale eagle license plates.