Northwest Ohio is a unique location for biodiversity. The Great Black Swamp was one of our region’s most important ecological factors, but it’s not the only major ecology contributing to Northwest Ohio’s biodiversity. Across from the swampland on the other side of Maumee River, there is an area that encapsulates over 10 natural land cover types within about 130 square miles.
Oak Openings, the long and slender strip of land that extends from west of Toledo to Detroit, is called “ one of the world’s last great places ” and hosts around one-third of all Ohio’s endangered plant species, which in turn provide essential habitats to many rare animal species, especially birds and butterflies. Oak Openings is also home to two of the only three remaining oak savannas in Ohio.
According to Dr. Karen Root, a professor of biological sciences at Bowling Green State University, the merging of landscapes like swamp, prairie, grasslands and more makes Northwest Ohio such a gem of biodiversity for both flora and fauna. That juxtaposition also makes Northwest Ohio a one-of-a-kind destination for thousands of migratory birds during spring and fall migrations — attracting birders from all over the world each year during the Biggest Week in American Birding .
The first official record detailing Ohio’s endangered wildlife dates back to 1974. At that time, 71 species were endangered. In 2022, it was 131. According to the Division of Wildlife under the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, if you included species endangered, threatened, of concern, of special interest, extirpated and extinct (you can read about the distinctions here), Ohio’s count goes up to 404 animals and 644 plants.
In the face of habitat and wildlife loss across the state, organizations in Northwest Ohio are working to preserve and restore both local environments and the wildlife species that once inhabited them.
Metroparks Toledo is one such organization leading conservation efforts in Lucas County. Maintaining more than 12,000 acres across Northwest Ohio, they actively work to restore native habitats — including turning 987 acres of former farmland into wetlands. They also oversee the largest publicly owned nursery in Ohio, where they rear native plants — including about a dozen that are state-listed — and collect seeds.
In addition to large-scale land restoration projects, other organizations are working lot by lot to integrate native landscapes into existing infrastructure. Some Northwest Ohio organizations are also working on a larger scale to research and track wildlife in the region. And as people play a part in reintroducing a species to the Great Lakes that has inhabited the earth for millennia, they’re playing a role that connects them to a much larger world.