I could see the little buck illuminated in my headlights as I drove through the winding roads of the Killbuck Wildlife Area. An oncoming car saw him as well, and we both stopped to see what he was going to do. He went left, scrambled for a couple seconds, and then went right. No problem, I was stopped. But then he veered towards me, and decided to leap over my Jeep for some reason, thumping the hood with a hoof. “Well, there’s a dent,” I said to my son. But in testament to his nimbleness, when we took a look later, no dent, or scratch of any kind, was visible. Something tells me if I tried to leap over my Jeep hood, there’d be a heck of a dent.
Whitetail deer, our only “big game” species in Ohio, are obviously abundant. I marvel at the fact that these large animals roam wild and free in our domesticated world, to the extent that we are constantly on the lookout for them in the roadways. According to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, more than 67,000 deer were harvested during the various hunting seasons so far. Our freezer at home is full of venison, harvested from my parents’ farm and well fed from their crop fields.
What we tend to forget is that whitetail deer, and most of the wildlife species we enjoy, are success stories. In the early 1900s, most wildlife was wiped out as trees were cut and land cleared for farming. The soil eroded, the rivers ran brown. Deer, wild turkeys, river otters, mink, beaver and a host of others were extirpated. That means they existed other places, but not here. Thanks to the foresight of many conservationists, awareness of the need to save our soil, water, and wildlife rose to the forefront. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, conservation districts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and others rose up at this time to set hunting limits and put boots on the ground. Working one on one with farmers, our conservation agencies promoted contour farming, strip cropping, and preached erosion control. Trees were planted, the land was able to heal, the rivers cleared up, and wildlife eventually returned.
Ohio ranks right up there with the best of them in terms of wildlife diversity in our state. Take a walk on the Holmes County Trail and you may see everything from a chipmunk to a bald eagle, with some Indigo buntings and red-eared sliders in between. And maybe even a sand hill crane, which are endangered in Ohio. Wildlife is back, thanks to the conservation efforts of all of us, and that’s something to celebrate. Just drive carefully!
Michelle Wood oversees the day to day operations of the district and the diverse activities offered to promote clean water and healthy soil. With a lifelong passion for the outdoors and a background in communications, she appreciates the conservation district grassroots model which enables the local board and staff to create programs that meet the conservation needs of Holmes County. Michelle is a member of several statewide committees, including the ODNR Parks Advisory Council and the Clean Ohio Fund Natural Resources Assistance Council. Contact Michelle at 330-674-2811 or at firstname.lastname@example.org