UPDATE – The Division of Natural Areas and Preserves included in Ohio Budget!
Thanks to all of you who used your outside voice and contacted your elected officials in June, for helping to keep the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves from going extinct.
The Division, which for more than 35 years has worked with The Nature Conservancy to safeguard Ohio’s most rare and precious places, was threatened with elimination in Ohio’s 2012-2013 operating budget. But a host of conservation and environmental groups, including the Conservancy, opposed this change.
When the budget was approved at the end of June, it included funding for the Division and retained state tax check-off program for nature preserves. (Earlier versions of the budget had proposed expanding the check-off to include state parks, which likely would decrease the amount of dollars directed to state nature preserves – irreplaceable examples of Ohio’s rarest nature habitats.
The final bill includes approximately $1.2 million to support the division during the next two years.
Thanks to the Ohio General Assembly’s Conference Committee for recognizing the importance of Ohio’s nature preserves.
The Nature Conservancy called on its membership and all Ohioans to help protect Ohio’s natural areas by telling their lawmakers to maintain the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves in the upcoming biennial budget.
“For more than 35 years, the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves has worked with The Nature Conservancy to safeguard Ohio’s most rare and precious places,” said Josh Knights, the executive director of the Conservancy in Ohio. “Now this program is in danger of becoming extinct, but you can help save it.”
Debate continues among state lawmakers about whether this Division – which has sustained severe budget cuts over the last few years – should be included in the 2012-2013 operating budget or eliminated entirely.
In recent years, some of the Division’s responsibilities have been transferred to other divisions within the Ohio Department of Natural Resources due to budget cutbacks. But conservation groups throughout Ohio believe that the state nature preserves, the core of the program, should be maintained by a funded Division of Natural Areas and Preserves and not merged with the Division of Parks and Recreation.
Natural areas and preserves are distinct from our state parks and must remain clearly defined to assure the uniqueness of each experience remains available to all Ohioans, Knights said. In addition, revenues from the natural areas check-off should continue to support these sensitive areas and not be expanded to include all 74 state parks.
Since it was created in 1976, the Division has helped maintain a statewide network of nature preserves that protect some of the best remaining forests, prairies, wildflowers and wetlands in the Buckeye State. Many of these preserves were originally protected with the help of The Nature Conservancy and other conservation organizations, and later transferred to the Division for safekeeping.
The preserves protect Ohio’s oldest-growth forests, its most spectacular river gorges and wetland habitat critical to millions of migratory birds. They include natural gems such as Sheldon Marsh, Clear Fork Gorge, Hueston Woods and Clifton Gorge.
“These places are the last best examples of Ohio’s natural heritage. They are as irreplaceable as our most treasured heirlooms and we must do everything we can to preserve them for current and future generations.” Knights said.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.