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The Nature Conservancy’s Kitty Todd Nature Preserve has reached an important milestone: With the purchase of five acres of oak savanna habitat off Angola Road, our preserve just north of Toledo Express Airport surpassed the 1,000-acre mark.
That’s a significant event for the conservation of one of the Midwest’s rarest habitats. It’s a place where, for example, the recuperative power of nature has transformed an old pig farm back to wet meadows where rare salamanders now live. But a lot of work remains to be done at Kitty Todd and throughout the surrounding Oak Openings region.
Kitty Todd has grown steadily since 1972, when the Nature Conservancy worked with the Toledo Naturalists Association to buy 26 acres of Schwamberger Prairie. Back then, botanists and ecologists were alone in understanding the significance of the tattered remnants of wet prairie and oak savanna that once covered 130 square miles.
Today, Kitty Todd is a showcase of Oak Openings habitats. Acre for acre, this preserve has the greatest diversity of rare species of any protected natural area in Ohio. Its rare animals include the endangered Karner blue butterfly, the spotted turtle, and the spotted salamander.
There also are more than 100 rare plant species, including showy orchids and plants that feed on insects. Some, like the prickly pear cactus and wild lupine, can easily be seen from Kitty Todd’s trails, delighting visitors who don’t expect to see these plants in Ohio.
Over the decades, the notion of protecting the oak openings in the lake plain has caught on. Thousands of acres of similar land have been protected by our partners in the Green Ribbon Initiative, with support from the Waite-Brand Foundation, Metroparks of the Toledo Area, the Toledo Zoo, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Ohio Fund, and many other individuals and organizations.
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Even so, only a small fraction remains of the lake plain oak openings — a patchwork of oak savanna and wetlands that once covered thousands of acres in Ohio and Michigan.
Last year, with the support of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Nature Conservancy opened an office in southeast Michigan. Until then, nearly all the work to conserve Oak Openings had been concentrated in the Ohio portion of the region. But natural areas don’t respect political boundaries; most of the original lake plains oak openings were in Michigan.
We’re working on restoration efforts with local parks. We’re also concentrating heavily on private individuals and companies that own most of the land that could be restored.
We invite landowners to consider our advice on managing their land in a way that encourages native habitat. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic response: More than 150 landowners have enrolled in the Oak Openings Landowner Registry, and more than 50 private landowners, townships, and organizations have enrolled in management agreements that cover 3,700 acres.
These landowners make a voluntary 10-year commitment to habitat restoration on their land. In return, we help them get rid of invasive plants, grow native species, and manage their land in a way that will bring the lake plain oak openings back to life.
Kitty Todd is the best place to see the results of our work. Autumn is a beautiful time to visit the preserve. Or get to know the preserve as few others do, by joining our band of dedicated volunteers.
Steve Woods is Oak Openings program manager for the Nature Conservancy, a charitable environmental organization, and chairman of the Green Ribbon Initiative, a partnership that preserves the Oak Openings region.