Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Budget battle leaves status of nature preserves in limbo

Columbus – As Gov. Ted Strickland and the Ohio General Assembly
battle over budget differences, the fate of the state’s 134
designated nature preserves grows cloudy.

Under the governor’s revised two-year budget proposal, the Ohio
DNR will receive $1.7 million for 2010 to fund its Division of
Natural Areas & Preserves (DNAP), but no money for that
division in 2011. The division operates almost exclusively from the
state’s big pot of tax money – the General Revenue Fund (GRF).
State income tax check-off money, private donations, state and
federal grants, and a limited number of hunting permits also
account for a trickling of revenues.

“We’re working to find alternative sources of future funding for
DNAP,” said DNR spokesperson Beth Ruth. “We want to shift them to
non-GRF funding by 2011. Management is working on a strategy right
now.”

The task is familiar to DNR officials as they also search for
alternative ways to fund other state recreational resources such as
the park system and the scenic rivers program. The current budget
moves scenic rivers from DNAP to the watercraft division where it
will be funded largely by state gas taxes.

However, it remains to be seen whether legislators will go along
with that transfer.

Support for state nature preserves declined dramatically over
the last three years as Ohio continued to tighten its financial
belt. In 2009, DNAP received $2.3 million in GRF, compared to $3.1
million in 2007.

At stake is the future of 28,000 acres of state-owned or managed
lands that are home to rare and endangered animals, unique
geological features, and rare plant communities. Some of these
set-aside areas were purchased outright and others were donated
with the stipulation they would be preserved and protected for
future generations. It’s the donated land that concerns Stu Lewis,
former DNAP chief.

“It’s a moral issue,” Lewis said. “There were promises made
through wills and gifts. What happens to these lands now?”

It’s possible the DNR’s other land-holding divisions – wildlife,
forestry, and parks – could divide DNAP’s acres for management
purposes. The wildlife division assumed control of Old Woman Creek
State Nature Preserve in Erie County several years ago. But the
missions of those divisions are distinctly different from DNAP’s
goal of pristine protection and preservation.

Dean Sheldon Jr. is confident the DNR will find a solution to
the problem. Sheldon’s father sold the original 55 acres of Lake
Erie barrier beach that became Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve
in 1979. Although the property, located near Cedar Point Amusement
Park, is now prime development real estate, Sheldon believes it
will always be preserved as a wetland.

“The loss of wetlands in Ohio is fantastic,” Sheldon said. “The
opportunity to preserve this marshland is unique.”

He’s glad the state is looking for a long-term source of funding
to support the nature preserve system.

“People are important. But these precious and priceless natural
things are also important,” Sheldon said. “I think they’ll come up
with something.”

Beth Ruth at the DNR is equally confident.

“We’re going to work to maintain the (DNAP) program,” she
said.

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