THE PLAINS — “Wild About Nature” is the 2019 theme of the Ohio Association of Garden Clubs, and also for the Region 11 Spring Meeting.
The Athens and The Plains Garden Clubs hosted the event Saturday, April 27, at The Plains United Methodist Church.
In keeping with the state theme, the program included a “History of Nature in Ohio” presented by Teresa Caldwell of Athens Soil and Water Conservation.
“The history of wildlife in Ohio shows where we have been, and where we are going,” Caldwell said as she pointed to a map illustrating the abundance and disappearance of flora and fauna in the region from the early 1700s to the present.
The history began with the exploration of the Northwest Territory, first by the French and then the English. They found a region rich in natural resources; “Everyone wanted to go to the Northwest Territory, or Ohio County as it was known.”
In 1751, The Ohio Company claimed the land, and a rush began to control the resources.
“The region was 95 percent covered with trees, Oak, Sycamore, and Beech in the South, (the area of Region 11). Europe had depleted their fur bearing animals, so there was a rush to trap and export furs to Europe. Beavers brought a lot of hunters and trappers to the area.”
Buffalo became extirpated from the state after the Revolutionary War. Ohio University was established 1787 and settlers flocked to the region, By the time Ohio became a state in 1819, there was a bounty on wolves and mountain lions, and taxes were paid with squirrel tails.
She said that the predatory animals were a problem for farmers; squirrels having few predators, had became an economic nuisance. One way to rid of the state of squirrels was to have taxes paid in squirrel tails instead of cash.
According to local stories, wolves, in particular, were a terrible nuisance during the early 19th century. It was reported that in a single night, a pack of wolves killed more than 100 sheep at farms in Hinckley Township in Northeast Ohio.
The story that is told in their local history is the following: Western Reserve farmers awoke to frightening, blood-curdling sounds as wolves tore apart flocks. Residents grabbed their muskets, repelled the invaders as best as they could and waited until morning to survey the carnage.
The next evening, the cycle might repeat itself. Instead of wolves, though, it could be bears, which were also a deadly menace to livestock in Ohio.
In 1818, settlers finally had enough. They declared “a war of extermination” on the beasts in Hinckley, drew up battle plans and enlisted soldiers from across the state. The Great Hinckley Hunt of 1818 was a slaughter like no other.
Nearly 600 “able-bodied men and large boys” participated in the Dec. 24 hunt, which committees thoroughly mapped out and advertised for weeks. A $15 bounty was declared for every slain wolf.
According to an account by Charles Neil in History of Medina County and Ohio (1881): “The order was that the farmers gather by early daybreak, armed with rifles, guns, pitchforks, flails, clubs, and every available implement of war; form a continuous line on the four sides of the township, and, at a given signal, advance toward its center, killing, shooting and slaughtering all game that came within reach.”
It was reported that the Great Hinckley Hunt of 1818 killed 21 bears, 17 wolves, 300 deer, and an unspecified number of turkey, fox and raccoons.
Forests were cut, timber used for building, the excess burned, to make the land useful for farming. Swamps were drained as well, the fertile soil excellent for a variety of crops. By 1855 Ohio was the leading agricultural state in the union with crops of wheat, wool, and corn.
“Destruction comes at a price to wildlife and their habitat. Lots of animals were eliminated from the landscape, and no one was paying attention to the consequences.”
In 1896, the Mechanical Age arrived in Ohio, and by 1935 the white tailed deer, turkey and osprey had disappeared. It was also the first time hunting, fishing, and trapping license were required by the state.”
Martha, the last passenger pigeon died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo, and the Migratory Bird Act was passed in 1917 to protect the bird population from slaughter for the millinery industry.
“Feathered hats were so popular that birds were being killed just for their tail feathers, their carcass left to rot, along with their eggs and young ones.”
As the predators disappeared, the area was overrun with small fur bearing creatures such as rabbits. Coyotes moved in to feed on the abundant game with no predators to stop their migration.
According to Caldwell, the reaction to Rachael Carson’s book Silent Spring, published in 1962, began the modern environmental movement.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources, established in 1949, created the Division of Wildlife Management in 1968 to “manage the wildlife still left in Ohio and to bring back what was lost.”
Reports in 2012 showed that much progress has been made in that endeavor, but that there is still much to be done.
Caldwell presented several initiatives that everyone could be part of, such as providing proper habitats for blue birds and pollinators.
“The Ohio Pollinator Initiative is one way you can help,” she said. “There is an Ohio Blue Bird Society, seed collections, and programs for landowners who want to participate in developing habitats. There is a Monarch Watch and The Ohio State University Bee Watch, many programs to get involved with.”
For more information on programs, contact Teresa Caldwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 740-797-9686, Ext. 6282.
You can also visit the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and contact your county extension agent for programs and resources in your area.
Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for The Daily Sentinel.