This provides some background for how and why ONAPA was formed in April 2012.
With the difficult economic climate that our Nation and Ohio has experienced in the past several years, downsizing has been the trend for many agencies and businesses. The same is true for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources which has suffered severe budget cuts that have affected the Department’s programs and activities. During the Strickland Administration, the Department dismantled the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP) starting in 2009 when the Scenic Rivers Program was transferred to the Division of Watercraft. The Natural Heritage Program was transferred to the Division of Wildlife in 2010 and transferred the preserve managers and daily operations to the Division of Parks and Recreation, which is already severely understaffed, and reduced the DNAP’s budget to zero in Fiscal Year 2011. The dismantling of DNAP has left our once nationally recognized system of state nature preserves in jeopardy. As a result, many of the preserves are rapidly deteriorating and the features for which they were protected including rare and endangered plants and animals are threatened. Many preserves are being overrun by invasive species and unchecked natural succession and the Division of Parks and Recreation simply does not have the staff or capacity to respond as well as it needs to without additional funding, commitment, and experienced, biologically trained personnel to do so.
As a result, major stakeholders held a Natural Areas Constituency Strategic Planning Meeting at Gorman Nature Center on February 17, 2012 and participants recommended that there needed to be an organization to re-establish and re-energize a statewide constituency or "Friends" group for the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves and to marshal a large, dedicated volunteer workforce to assist in managing the preserves and natural areas in Ohio. Three retired DNAP officials applied for non-profit corporation status with the Ohio Secretary of State and ONAPA became a reality on April 5, 2012. Until we can convince the Ohio General Assembly to replace the tax dollar support the program needs, volunteers must do most of the work especially in monitoring the preserves, habitat management, and educational activities on the preserves. Even if funding and qualified leadership are restore in the future, the Ohio nature preserve system will always need the help of dedicated volunteers who will continue to work and support the preservation of Ohio’s finest natural areas and preserves.
Fast forward to 2016 and we are happy to report that ONAPA is working closely with DNAP, a program still residing in the Division of Parks & Recreation. While it is not a separate division, it is holding its own with 6 preserve managers and a statewide program administrator, Jeff Johnson. ONAPA has been working to protect what is left of the division and support the activities of the division. See the 2015 accomplishments of ONAPA for our most recent activities, all of which are geared to assist DNAP with their activities. Some of the activities are those that DNAP cannot conduct, such as the legislative reception held in September 2015. ONAPA can and will garner support from legislators and other partners to ensure that the nature preserve system is protected and maintained intact as a separate program from any other ODNR division.
We have a Board of Directors that can organize and lead dedicated volunteers and supporters of the program. We ask you to explore this website, and if you agree with us, please join ONAPA, sign up as a supporter, stewardship project volunteer, or a preserve monitor, or contact us and ask to help using the skills you already posses.
There is much to do, and we need you! Join ONAPA today!