Ohio’s natural resources seem to be in good hands as Mary Mertz (center photo), the new Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, gets busy. I sat in on a press conference with Mertz and the a few members of her staff, including Glen Cobb, Chief of the Division of Parks and Watercraft, and Kendra Wecker, Chief of the Division of Wildlife. Those staff members in attendance, I have known for over a decade and are aware of their outlook on Ohio’s natural workings. I have an abundance of confidence in this team and truly expect the benefits of their knowledge, experience, and passion natural resource management to be evident in the next couple months.
Mertz submitted an “aggressive” budget request to Ohio’s leaders and it has been approved by the Ohio House of Reps, and now in the hands of the Ohio Senate. The last administration left a lot of work to do, but Mertz has surrounded herself with experts in the fields of each branch of the ODNR. Those experts are advising the director and she seems to be absorbing the information well and asking the correct questions. Mertz’s previous career field was in law, moving to ODNR Director from a position with the Ohio Attorney General. She understands what it takes to make progress and the importance of working with several sources to reach a common goal.
One of her objectives is to secure additional acres of the AEP Recreational Land in southeastern Ohio. Ohio has already purchased 6,000 acres and agreed to buy about 7,000 more. About 50,000 acres remain in AEP’s hands. Mertz informed me during the meeting that she has her sights on the remaining total acres, not just a few thousand more. She shared ideas of how to raise funds for the wild lands, including considerations with several conservation organizations funding and securing grants. The AEP Rec Lands include a few hundred, primitive campsites and dozens of ponds with healthy populations of largemouth bass. Some avid users of the AEP Rec Lands are concerned the ODNR will change how the AEP Rec Lands are managed, such as camping fees (currently free) and sections off limits to access. The current plans are to keep the primitive camping experience, but with new latrines and better access road grading. Yes, I imagine a small fee to camp is on the horizon, but that’s a small investment to increase the odds of this special lands remaining accessible by the public for a long time.
Another item on Mertz’s to-do list is to revive the Department of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP). Have you visited one of Ohio’s DNAP properties lately? You should. If so, and you appreciate nature in its purest form, then you would enjoy the visit. Ohio has 136 DNAP treasures spread around the state. Visit the ODNR’s website to view DNAP map. A wise investment this is and overdo.
If camping at an Ohio State Park is your preference, then you’re about to see improvements there. Improved camp sites for RVers, progress on infrastructure projects, and additional tent-camping opportunities. The state park camping fees have risen over the last several years, so it’s encouraging to know campers will be getting more for their buck.
Here are a few more improvements planned for Ohio’s natural resources:
Fifty-million dollars will be spent to improve water quality over the entire state of Ohio.
Addition of 20 new Natural Resource Officers, covering watercraft and park.
Slight increase hunting and fishing license fees to assist in acquiring additional lands for public hunting and fishing.
Improved lake dredging by updating dredging equipment and scheduling improvements.
The cost to manage a state’s natural resources is always a topic of concern by those doing the managing and by those enjoying the benefits of use. Some would say the state of Ohio is just out to make more money. I don’t believe so. Just like your own financial budget of your home and income, changes are constant. Improvements are needed and nothing is truly free. Ohio’s natural resources are as valuable as ever and managing it all requires attention and honest concerns by specialists. Ohio has such a team and Director Mertz believes in them. I believe her.
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