Garden Views: Wild animals used to call Ohio home


Ohio has a rich and varied history when it comes to its wildlife. Do you know how the State of Ohio received its name? Centuries ago, the Seneca Native Americans spoke the Iroquoian language and called the winding river, Ohi yo’ (roughly pronounced oh-hee-yoh, with the vowel in “hee” held longer), meaning a great river.

Head rivers including the Allegheny flowed into the Ohi yo and then into the ancestral hunting grounds. Ohi yo’ later shorten by English settlers to Ohio means beautiful in the Iroquoian language. An English settler named Christopher Gist back in 1751 stated: I went to the south westward down the little Miami River or Creek, where I had fine traveling through rich land and beautiful meadows, in which I could sometimes see forty or fifty buffaloes feeding at once.”

Other adventurers were awestruck by enormous flocks of passenger pigeons darkening the sky, delighted by colorful Carolina parakeets shining like gems in the treetops, and mesmerized by dusky prairie chickens leaping above the tall grass during their courtship dances. They were impressed by the huge fish and the plentiful deer, beaver, elk, and bison, not to mention the black bears, wolves, and mountain lions.

In the year 1803 Ohio becomes a state. This same year in Lawrence County the last bison was killed. In 1829, the first Ohio law was passed to protect a wild animal. This marked the first time Ohioans recognized that wildlife should be conserved as a valuable resource.

By 1839 Ohio led the nation in wheat farming. Almost all the original forests have been replaced by the growing number of farms and small towns. By 1840, elk once found across the state were gone. Jumping to 1855 it was noted bobcats, wolves, and mountain lions had been eliminated from the state. Elimination was not only from loss of habitat, but it was also because of farmers who at the time killed these animals because they preyed on sheep, pigs, and calves.

The last wilderness in Ohio the Great Black Swamp was drained in 1875. After this event the last black bear known to Ohio at the time was killed in Paulding County in 1881. By 1883 Ohio only had four million acres of forest left standing. Prior to English settlement Ohio had 24 million acres of forest. With the rapid loss of forests and uncontrolled hunting, wild turkey and white-tailed deer in the year 1909 were declared extinct in the State of Ohio. Another wakeup call sounded when in 1914. “Martha,” the very last passenger pigeon in the world, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Yet another wakeup call was the last known wild Carolina parrakeet was killed in 1904 and the last captive bird died at the Cincinnati Zoo Feb. 21, 1918.

The newly created Ohio Department of Natural Resources sets up the Division of Wildlife in 1949. This division started receiving federal dollars in 1952 from the Dingell – Johnson Act for management and restoration of fish. Unfortunately, during 1954 due to polluted streams and riparian areas the last reports of native river otters died. A riparian area is a wetland found next to a stream or river. This was then followed by the fire on the Cuyahoga River in 1968. Blue pike thought to be a sub species of walleye became extinct in 1970.

Ohio’s bald eagles and other Ohio raptors crashed in 1973 because of DDT and other pesticide poisonings. At that time only four pairs of eagles remained along Lake Erie.

Jumping to 2010 river otters are removed from Ohio’s endangered species list. Bald eagle numbers continue to rise. Black bears are currently an endangered species in Ohio, however resident black bear populations are growing with an estimated 30 to 60 bears living in the state. Bobcat sightings also continue to rise. Ohio’s white-tailed deer herd is approaching the three quarter of a million mark.

Thanks to the stewardship of The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, more than 164,000 acres of state park lands and waters and other public lands that are still largely undeveloped. Coupled with reintroduction efforts and habitat improvements, modern Ohioans can catch a glimpse of many of the wild creatures that once graced the untamed Ohio frontier.

The author acknowledges the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife for contributing information for this article.

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