^^^ Check out my 1-pager on current threats to Ohio’s aquatic species diversity…
^^^ Check out my 1-pager on current threats to Ohio’s aquatic species diversity…
In the 1970s, two species of foreign carp known as bighead carp and silver carp, collectively known as “Asian carp,” were introduced to isolated ponds in the southern US to help control algae. Due to heavy flooding, the carp were eventually washed out of their ponds and into the Mississippi River drainage. Since then, Asian carp have multiplied readily throughout the Mississippi and its tributaries at the expense of native fish populations. If these fish were released into the Great Lakes basin, their impact would be devastating to the habitat and populations of native fish to the lakes, so much so that it would decimate current species and heavily affect the fishing industry on the Great Lakes.
Currently, there are canals that barges use to get from the Mississippi to the Great Lakes, the largest being in Chicago. The problem with the canals is that if boats can get through, so can fish. It’s an open gateway for Asian carp to waltz into Lake Michigan. Once the carp are in :ale Michigan, the will likely quickly migrate to the other 4 great lakes.
Due to this massive threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem, the US Army Corps of Engineers has set up a series of electrical barriers designed to keep the carp out. Electricity is pumped through stretches of the canal from shore to shore in three places in hopes of deterring any and all fish from moving between the Mississippi and the Great Lakes basin. These fields don’t actually stun fish, but the electrical current is a repellent to them. Studies have shown that the barrier works well on large fish, but there have been a few cases of fish under 2” swimming through. Without filling in the canal and closing off one of the biggest water shipping routes in the US, only so much can be done. Hopefully science can stay one step ahead of the invasive species and keep them at bay.
Prieur, Danielle. “Better Living through Electricity – Keeping Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.” Medill Reports Chicago, Medill News Service, 8 Mar. 2016, news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/better-living-through-electricity-keeping-asian-carp-out-of-the-great-lakes/.
Ready, Richard C., et al. “The Potential Impact of Aquatic Nuisance Species on Recreational Fishing in the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi and Ohio River Basins.” Journal of Environmental Management, vol. 206, 2018, pp. 304–318., doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2017.10.025.
The Cuyahoga River of Cleveland is famously known for having caught fire in 1969. What is not so well known is that this river had caught fire numerous times prior to the Time’s article showing the state of the river. For not only Cleveland but the state of Ohio, the Cuyahoga River Fire has become the go-to cautionary tale of why the dumping of chemicals into waterways has negative effects. The video done by the Cleveland State University Department of History Center for Public History + Digital Humanities depicts the state of health the river was in.
As of 2018, the Ohio EPA was asking the U.S. EPA to ease the restriction of fish consumption from an area of the river that has been recognized as an Area of Concern (AOC). The request made was based on samplings of the river fish’s tissue that indicated major improvements to the health of these fish. The restriction that was in place is what known as a Beneficial Use Impairment or BUI for short. As of 1992, the Cuyahoga River was found to have 10 BUI’s that needed to be addressed. The amount remaining of BUI’s in 2019 for the river is seven, which still means there is work to be done but however does mark an indication the water quality of the river is getting better. As mentioned by Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, with the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River Fire approaching reflecting on the progress that has been made within those years is something that should be done.
This key milestone for both the Cuyahoga River and Ohio, indicates reflecting on changing the narrative in which the river is used in. Instead of being purely a tale of the destruction, it can perhaps become a tale of redemption. With the combined efforts of local, state, and federal partnership, the river that once burned and killed anything that fell in, is now one full of life and small successes.
Michael Rotman, “Cuyahoga River Fire,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 14, 2019, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/63.
Ohio EPA News Releases. (2019, May 03). Retrieved from https://epa.ohio.gov/News/Online-News-Room/News-Releases/ArticleId/1441/cuyahoga-river-water-quality-continues-to-improve
Buffer strips, or land adjacent to farmland composed of wetlands, grasses, or woods serve serval key purposes in Ohio. Buffer strips are a recognized best practice by such agencies as the ODNR, EPA, and USDA in promoting better outcomes for bodies of water, fish, wildlife, and land users such as farmers and ranchers.1,2,3 Buffer strips create improved outcomes in a variety of way. From the farmers’ and ranchers’ perspectives, they reduce soil erosion, improve yields, and protect crops, livestock, and structures from harsh weather and high winds.1,2 From an environmental perspective, they reduce runoff of sediment, chemicals, and nutrients into waters, provide food, shelter, and movement corridors for wildlife, and create feeding, spawning, and nursery habitats for fish.1,2,3,4
While not utilizing land for farming or ranching use would seem to be against the best interests of farmers, that is not the case. In fact, the previously mentioned benefits for farmers and ranchers are just the beginning of how leaving or creating buffer strips is beneficial to farmers and ranchers. Buffer strips along waterways, referred to as riparian forest buffers and grassed waterways by the Ohio EPA, serve land users’ interests by reducing soil erosion and runoff.1,3,5 Both soil erosion and runoff hurt land users by removing costly inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, and nutrients) and soil from the fields and pastures where they are most needed.1 This affects land users financially by making them pay more to lay down more pesticides, fertilizers, and soil treatments than they would have had to if they were able to reduce runoff and erosion. Another benefit of buffer strips for farmers and ranchers is that they act as wind buffers, which reduces wind erosion in addition to protecting livestock from fast moving winter winds that kill cattle, or harsh spring storms that blow down young crops.1 Certain types of buffer strips also provide shelter for livestock during hailstorms.1 By now, it would seem evident enough that buffer strips are a boon to land users, but there are even more ways that farmers and ranchers can benefit from buffer strips. Buffer strips serve as prime wildlife habitat, as they are often the convergence of movement, feeding, shelter, and watering areas for wildlife.1,3, When viewed from this perspective as prime habitat, a savvy landowner can derive even more profit from buffer strips by leasing their land to hunters or by hunting themselves. Finally, landowners can derive additional financial benefits from buffer strips through state and federal incentive programs such as the federal Conservation Reserve and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs and state of Ohio payments.6 These initial payments are up to $500/acre for wooded buffer strips and annual payments of up to $180/acre are possible.5,6 When considering that field and pasture edge land is usually the lowest producing area a landowner has, the earning potential is very competitive with possible earnings from cultivation.1,5,6 However, this doesn’t factor in savings in time and money from not having to cultivate the buffer strip and the cost sharing offered for the initial planting of buffer strips.1,5,6
From an environmental perspective, buffer strip benefits are more intuitive. Grassland and woodland buffer strips protect against sedimentation of rivers and lakes by reducing wind and water erosion.1,2 Buffer strips also protect against fertilizer and pesticide runoff by offering an avenue of absorption for those contaminants.1,2,3,5 This is especially beneficial because certain nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are known to be leading contributors to harmful algae blooms and to invasive species such as Asian carp that thrive under those conditions.5,7 Buffer strips also serve to create habitat for wildlife, especially species such as rabbits, quail, and grouse that need grass-to-forest transitional areas that buffer strips often replicate.1,2,8,9,10 In addition to creating nesting, feeding, and sheltering areas for wildlife, buffer strips facilitate movement of wildlife such as bears, deer, coyotes, and bobcats that need to move in order to eat, drink, and establish new territories.1,2 Thus far, this paragraph has mostly focused on the environmental benefits that grassy and wooded buffer areas provide. One of the most critical types of buffer areas is wetlands.4,5 Wetlands serve unique purposes such as being exceptional nitrate and pesticide filters for aquifers and ground water.4,5 Wetlands are also unique in that they provide spawning, nursery, and feeding areas for several types of fishes.5 Finally, wetlands are critical to wildlife such as waterfowl, amphibians, and aquatic mammals that need the unique shallow and sheltered environment that wetlands provide.5
By now, it is easy to understand that buffer areas are a win-win for Ohio and its land users. They help farmers and ranchers save money by protecting their crops and livestock and reducing crop and pasture inputs and afford a good source of income in terms of incentives and leasing opportunities. Buffer areas are critical to the environment due to their ability to protect water and provide habitat for Ohio’s wildlife and fishes.
The NOAA announced $16.7 million worth of funding for restoration projects in the Great Lakes area. One of the projects that were funded was the Blausey Project. This area in northern Ohio used to be a large swamp, The Great Black Swamp, but European settlers converted the area to the immensely fertile farming land that it is now, despite the ecological issues it caused to the area. The whole goal of this project was to restore the 171 acres into the wetlands they were prior to their conversion in order to get the ideal ecosystem back for the native fish to eat and thrive in as well as offer additional wetlands to soak up phosphorous to help eliminate the algae problem in Lake Erie.
In addition to restoring the wetland, the project also included putting in a fish ladder to allow the fish species to swim between the river area adjacent and the wetlands themselves. This ladder was the first in the Lake Erie area and is ingenious when it comes to fish reproduction. The entrance to the ladder has a carp gate with bars two inches apart in order to allow the native game fish into this ideal habitat and keeps the invasive carp fish out. This allows the game fish that have had their numbers hurt by the carp in Lake Erie to have a sort of safe haven to reproduce and has effectively increased the numbers of game fish to 13% of captures and there are 24 species calling the area home.
Fish aren’t the only animals that are benefitting from this new wetlands area. This area is now the habitat of 125 species of birds as well as providing an important stop for migrating birds having 120 different species recorded in the wetland since its renewal. In fact, this restoration has done so much for this habitat that before the construction began in 2011, the percentage of birds that were shorebirds or waterfowl was a mere 4% and the season after the restoration was complete, in 2013, the percentage was up to 84% waterbirds. This just proves how quickly a restoration can positively affect the environment. This information and population observations should be able to provide further reasoning for other areas to restore their natural habitats to substantially improve the ecologies of many other environments.
(2015, September 30) Ohio Country Journal. Wetland rehabilitation effort paying off. Retrieved on June 14 from https://www.ocj.com/2015/09/wetland-rehabilitation-effort-paying-off/.
NOAA Fisheries. NOAA Fisheries Announces $16.7 Million in Funding for Habitat Restoration in the Great Lakes. Retrieved on June 14 from https://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/stories/2014/noaa_fisheries_announces__16.7_million_in_funding_for_habitat_restoration_in_the_great_lakes.html.
Great Lakes Coastal Resilience Planning Facility. Climate Considerations for Habitat Restoration. Retrieved on June 14 from http://greatlakesresilience.org/case-studies/habitat-environment/climate-considerations-habitat-restoration.
21 states in the US, including Ohio, allow and practice hydraulic fracking, a method of extracting oil and natural gas by “injecting fluid into subterranean rock formations at high pressure.” Fracking has become an increasingly common method of oil/natural gas production, and now makes up 67 percent of natural gas production and 51 percent of crude oil production in the US. The states are given primary authority over fracking regulations, though every state in which fracking takes place must abide by federal legislation including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. These, among other regulations, are put in place with the objective to protect the environment from the many negative effects of fracking. Despite these federal standards which must be met, fracking still has extremely harsh effects on surrounding wildlife and fisheries. A study conducted at Duke University in 2015 found that fracking operations produced 210 billion gallons of wastewater from 2005 to 2014. This wastewater, which has been mixed with sand/sediment particles, and multiple chemicals, before being injected underground to produce oil, is stored in large, underground disposal wells after the fracking process is complete. This method of storage presents many issues to the environment. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, approximately 20-40 percent of stored wastewater is released back into the environment during drilling and production. This wastewater that is accidentally released ends up contaminating waterways, killing fish, contributing to excess algae growth, and even killing the wildlife that relies on these waterways for their fresh drinking water. Cattle and other farm animals are impacted just by the contamination of the groundwater where they graze, and many instances of mass death of cattle have been recorded These are few among many issues that fracking presents to wildlife, including air pollution, and habitat loss, a result of earthquakes caused by the underground wastewater wells. It is clear that fracking is extremely harmful to the environment and that the current regulations put on the processes are not enough the protect the wildlife and fisheries that are put in harm’s way. It is important that stricter laws are put in place in order to improve fracking practices or, in certain areas, disband them all together.
This map identifies the 21 state that have fracking sites in the US.
This map shows the thousands of fracking sites that exist in the state of Ohio alone.
The Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus Horridus) is the most venomous snake located in the north eastern United States and one of three venomous snakes located in Ohio including the Northern Copperhead and Massasauga Rattlesnake with both rattlesnake species being listed as endangered. (OhioDNR) This snake is endangered in part due to habitat destruction and loss of den sites which they are used every year at the same location for the local snakes and their young.
The Timber Rattlesnake secrets a scent that is followed and used by their young every year to use the dens in which they are born and the deforestation of areas they are located and removal of these dens leads to many snakes without areas to overwinter contributing to their population decline in the region. This issue is directly impacted by FFW policies and many areas have protected den sites and prohibited recreational activities in den site areas to prevent possible den destruction as well as preserve areas for future populations to reproduce with the hope of bringing this large snake species out of the endangered species list.
The Ohio State park Hocking Hills has a program that tags and monitors Timber rattlesnakes to log and record their movements in their home range and between den sites to better estimated the appropriate areas that may need to be further protected in the future as well as monitor the populations stability in the area.
-(Personal Photo) Timber Rattlesnake tracked and observed at Tar Hallow during OSU Herpetology course 2018.
This snake species originally could be found in 24 counties Ohio but due to harvesting and habitat destruction they can be only found in small pockets of 8 counties today with less than fifty individuals. (OhioDNR) This snake species is the largest venomous snake Ohio has and possibly the most docile venomous snake in America with the above pictured rattlesnake showing no signs of defense posture or aggression with a group of individuals 3 feet from him. The Timber Rattlesnake like many other snake species help regulate rodent populations and provide food for other predators making them a vital part of the food web in their local areas, so the continued protection of their home ranges is vital to their continued existence.
There have been studies done with these snakes of relocating young individuals to other areas using their mothers pheromones to mark a new den site with limited success but further research and better habitat locations are needed to improve this for the future due to this snake being dependent on their home dens to survive the harsh winters in the areas they are located. The biggest contribution for these snakes continued monitoring and data obtained is from sighting by the public to better help study data collection to be obtained due to their low populations with the 2010 study only observing 23 live individuals. (OhioDNR)
The timber rattlesnake program in Tar Hallow is especially in danger due to its research not being considered useful by the Division of Forestry and only has a special use permit to continue research due to being labeled as harassment to the animals. (chillicothegazette) This program tracks and monitors the snakes in and around their home dens and is vital to research on why other populations may be seeing population declines. The letters sent by the Division of Forestry were in 2015 but as of 2018 they were still active in their efforts of tracking and monitoring the Timber Rattlesnakes located in Tar Hallow.
Click the link to read more about soil compaction!
What are wetlands and how do we define them?
By definition, wetlands are “areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season” according to the environmental protection agency.1 Wetlands are managed primarily by the Army Corp of Engineers, setting the policy for wetland delineation across the entire United States. If you are ever unsure whether or not you are about to build in the area of a wetland, contact these professionals before you continue!
Figure 1: An example of a wetland.2
What was the Great Black Swamp and what did it do for Ohio?
The Great Black Swamp was a wetland that spanned 40 miles wide and 120 miles long, and was believed to be created 20,000 years ago when the last glacier retreated. These swamps provided acres of natural habitat and resources for surrounding wildlife, going untouched for thousands of years, even by adventurous Native Americans.3 This swamp was perceived as an inconvenience to the settlers of Ohio, who desired more room for farmland. Sickness was easily contracted from being around the swamp due to a heavy mosquito population, including cholera, typhoid, and malaria.3 This is what drove settlers to drain this vital ecosystem in the mid-19th century. On top of losing vital habitat, the Great Black Swamp was an enormous wetland that served as a water filter for water entering Lake Erie. According to an article about Lake Erie algae blooms, we are seeing such a dramatic increase in growth due to the “wrong-headed way people managed the watershed” referring to the removal of almost all of Ohio’s natural wetlands.4
So how does this work?
Wetlands are able to absorb nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the water, and lock them into the plant structures so they can be cycled through the environment. Wetland plants are able to uptake inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus through their roots, converting them to organic forms for growth in that particular organism.5 Why is this good for Lake Erie? Well, two of the leading contributors to algae growth are nitrogen and phosphorus, which are fueling these microorganisms like never seen before. Another factor driving this issue is increased agricultural activity along the watershed, and deterioration of soil quality. With worsening soil health due to land over usage, less nutrients are able to be retained in the soil, causing farmers to apply more fertilizer each year.6 However, the two most abundant nutrients in these fertilizers are nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients are being runoff during heavy rain events into storm sewers. Without these natural filters, these nutrients are going directly into the lake and contributing to harmful algae bloom growth.
What can be done to fix this?
Wetlands are referred to be “among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs”, that house a vast amount of species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish and mammals.1 Protecting our wetlands and habitats can be easy as raising awareness and supporting your local wetlands throughout Ohio seen in figure 2. More policy is being passed in Ohio, requiring that if a wetland must be removed for building purposes, another wetland must be built somewhere else to help stop the degradation of wetlands throughout the state. Other sources of wetland remediation are being carried out through the Ohio EPA, with standards of preserving and protecting aquatic resources, as well as restoring ecological integrity, natural structure, and natural function.8 The EPA is also working to address the broader context of the landscape and understanding the effects a wetland can have on an ecosystem. The continual support, remediation, and protection of Ohio’s wetlands will create an environment with plentiful habitat and restore the diversity of species Ohio once saw in the Great Black Swamp.
Figure 2: Wetlands to visit and protect in your backyard!7
Hydraulic fracturing is the processes of mining shale and similar types of rock formation to release oil and natural gas. Although it is used for the benefit of humans the side effects are detrimental for it contaminates the ground water around it. Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio is one of the biggest sedimentary rock formations in the eastern United Sates which is ideal for fracturing. Shale is formed from organic material and mud which usually traps in natural gas, which is then turned into electricity. In the recent years it has come to the attention of the general public that the drinking water for the people of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio who live in drilling cities have been subjected to contaminated water.
As shown in the figure above we see fissures. Fissures are cracks in the ground that can occur in fracking due to the high pressure of the fracking fluid being pumped into the bedrock. Which in lies the problem, if no fissures ever occurred then great we have a source of energy with low draw back. However, what the fissures do is cause a pathway for the chemicals to escape which eventually contaminates underground aquifers. What gets pumped into the pipes isn’t quite clear all that’s known is that it’s a mixture of sand, water, and other various chemicals. The sand and water are safe the unknown chemicals could be anything at all, and according to some studies done on nearby towns on the water, it’s also detrimental. The chemicals are made of a myriad of different substances some even reaching up to hundreds. 
With the increasing cases of people near fracturing sites becoming ill within the past years scientist have started to study the water reservoirs. Their goal is finding whether watersheds near fracturing sites are being contaminated. The University of Missouri conducted their own research by testing the fracturing fluid. They’ve concluded that 11 out of hundreds of chemicals have been known to cause cancer and several other illnesses. With the discovery of the dangerous chemicals more research was done within the vicinity of the fracturing sites. The main chemicals being searched for in the drinking water are methane, ethane, and propane. Water samples were taken starting from the gas well to the nearest water reservoir. The levels of methane and ethane recorded were compared to the EPA standards to deem if it was safe. As shown in Figure 3. 
If no measures are taken to uphold the oil companies to what they pump into the water then all we can be certain of is the inevitable death of many due to contaminated water. It’s great that through fracking we can get energy for the cheap, but when do we ask ourselves is it worth the well-being of the environment and our fellow man?
1“Hydraulic Fracking for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracking Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States (Final Report).” EPA, Environmental Protec tion Agency, 15 Nov. 2017, cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/hfstudy/recordisplay.cfm?deid=332990.
2 Fleur, Nicholas St. “Fracking Chemicals Detected in Pennsylvania Drinking Water.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 May 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/05/05/science/earth/ fracturing-chemicals-detected-in-pennsylvania-drinking-water.html.
3 Jackson, R.B. (2013) Fracking’s Potential Impact on Water Quality. Retrieved from https:// osu.pb.unizin.org/sciencebites/chapter/fracking-potential-impact-on-water-quality/
Sources for Figures (respectively):
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