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Rare Point of Green Light in State Budget Bill

Ohio Environmental Council, January 23, 2014

GOP Lawmakers Lead the Way in Preserving Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves

(Columbus, OH) – An unexpected ray of hope has emerged from the contentious debate over Ohio’s austere new state operating budget: the preservation of the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP) as a stand-alone division within the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

Responding to the pleas of the Buckeye Forest Council (BFC) and the Ohio Environmental Council, Republican lawmakers set aside Governor John Kasich’s proposal to merge DNAP with the Ohio Division of Parks and Recreation.

Instead, GOP lawmakers agreed with BFC that Ohio’s 135 State Nature Preserves deserve separate management and oversight.

Buckeye Forest Council and is allies argued successfully that the death of DNAP would endanger this small division’s unique mission: to acquire and preserve outstanding remnants of the wild Ohio’s original landscape, including old-growth forests, tall-grass prairie, bogs and fens, and rock formations.

During budget testimony in the Ohio House and Senate, BFC Executive Director Cheryl Johncox urged lawmakers to reject the Kasich administration’s requests to merge DNAP with the parks division and to allow State Parks to qualify for funding from the Ohio Natural Areas Fund.

The fund is used to help fund purchases of new preserves and part-time seasonal workers. “These sites look the same as they appeared when Europeans first explored Ohio’s rugged terrain,” said Johncox. “Their continued protection and preservation are a victory for all Ohioans.”

BFC’s policy recommendations appealed to Republican leaders and their party’s long history of supporting DNAP. Ohio’s Natural Areas program began in 1970 after the passage of the Natural Areas Act, championed by former Republican Governor James Rhodes and his legendary ODNR director, Bob Teater. At Teater’s request, Rhodes issued an executive order in 1976 to establish DNAP as an independent division.

Republican lawmakers responded quickly to collaborate with BFC to maintain the integrity of Ohio’s Natural Areas program. Emerging as legislative champions were Representatives Dave Hall (R-Ashland), Randy Gardener (R-Bowling Green, OH), Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City, OH), and Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster, OH0 and Senators Kevin Bacon (R-Minerva Park, OH), David Daniels (R-Greenfield, OH), Cliff Hite (R-Findlay, OH), and Chris Widener (R-Springfield, OH).

The lawmakers pushed successfully to amend the final budget bill to:
• preserve DNAP’s mission and independence as a stand-alone ODNR division;
• maintain nature preserves as the sole beneficiary of the Natural Areas Fund; and
• enable citizen oversight of DNAP by reestablishing the original language of the Ohio Natural Areas Council, a panel of independent experts to help advise ODNR officials in the care of Ohio’s State Nature Preserves.

Lawmakers also worked with ODNR Director David Mustine to provide $1.2 million in general revenue funding for the new two-year budget cycle, which runs through June 30, 2013

The new funding is a pleasant turnaround from the last fiscal year, when lawmakers followed the previous administration’s controversial request to stopgap DNAP’s budget with tax check-off funds.

Other potent allies in the fight to save DNAP included retired ODNR Assistant Director Richard (Dick) Mosley-the original Chief of DNAP, from 1975-1990-and Jack Shaner, Deputy Director of the Ohio Environmental Council.

Retired DNAP Chief Dick Mosley, said, “I’m looking forward to working with ODNR Director Mustine and his staff to continue the operation of the state nature preserve system, protecting Ohio’s unique and diverse natural areas.

The OEC’s Jack Shaner commented, “This green turn of events sets the stage for survival and even new growth of Ohio’s once proud natural areas program. We are deeply grateful to the Republican leaders who stepped up to plant this seed of hope.”