Wild About the Midwest's Jurassic Park
By Katie Koch
Marquette Biological Station
Valerie Rose Redmond
In late September, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Biologist Katie Koch embarked on a safari-like excursion through “The Wilds,” a reclaimed strip mine about two hours outside of Columbus, Ohio, home to 31 rare and endangered species from throughout the world and a surprisingly large population of grassland birds, including Henslow's Sparrows. The Wilds offers safari tours in open-air vehicles through open-range animal areas where visitors see rhinos and the Mid-Sized Carnivore Conservation Center.
With rhinos roaming freely and birds that share a close ancestral relationship to dinosaurs, The Wilds can be somewhat reminiscent of a certain movie set. “I have to admit that I felt a little like I was in the movie Jurassic Park, as staff from The Wilds drove us through gates and large fenced-in paddocks containing zebras, giraffes, red-crowned cranes, and Persian onagers,” said Koch.
Jurassic Park was one of the movies that reinforced Koch’s desire to become a biologist at an early age. “We even spotted a few migratory grassland birds and still-flowering native forbs amidst the herds of exotic mammals,” she said.
In addition to endangered species conservation, the area is being managed to restore ecological communities and maximize biodiversity. Some grassland bird research has also taken place there in recent past.
Grassland bird conservation is one of the Midwest Migratory Bird Program's highest priorities, and the Service has formed a working group through the Midwest Coordinated Bird Monitoring Partnership to advance grassland bird conservation and monitoring in a coordinated manner.
At the invitation of Amanda Conover, the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative Coordinator, Koch traveled through rolling terrain and the Appalachian foothills to The Wilds. She also met with Ohio bird conservation partners.
The OBCI coordinates the diverse skills and resources of its voluntary partners to deliver the full spectrum of bird conservation in Ohio. “I was really impressed with how much progress they have made in their first year,” said Koch. Several highlights include public awareness projects such as Lights Out Columbus, Little Miami Display and Bird Feeding Station, as well as guiding conservation partners through the All Bird Conservation Plan.
Koch also visited with Ohio Division of Wildlife staff to learn more about their bird monitoring programs. She briefed them on the Midwest Coordinated Bird Monitoring Partnership and identified new opportunities for collaboration. In addition to grassland bird conservation, they have also helped pilot the National Secretive Marshbird Monitoring protocol and sampling design, conducted off-shore aerial surveys for non-breeding waterbirds to inform of wind power development around western Lake Erie, digitized and ground-truthed all of their Breeding Bird Survey route locations, and developed a land manager's guide for Cerulean Warblers and other young forest birds.
There was also discussion about the Midwest Avian Data Center http://data.prbo.org/partners/mwadc and how partners could contribute data, what decision support tools are readily available, and how they could continue to develop this web application.
Koch concluded her visit at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center in Columbus, Ohio, http://grangeinsuranceauduboncenter.org/ a LEED-certified enterprise that brings hands-on conservation and nature-based learning to a major American city (and a designated Important Bird Area). There she met with several Audubon staff to learn more about their local and statewide efforts in bird conservation and education and to identify ways to connect them with the Midwest Coordinated Bird Monitoring Partnership and Midwest Migratory Bird Program.
For more information about The Wilds visit http://www.thewilds.org/