New focus on agriculture leads to exploration of new partnerships

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WOOSTER, Ohio – Stepping beyond their traditional role and focus, the Nature Conservancy is embracing agriculture as a new priority and is seeking new partnerships in this area.

Richard Shank, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Ohio chapter, visited the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center June 14 to explore new opportunities with the center and its staff.

New initiative. Shank’s talk on “The ‘New’ Nature Conservancy in Ohio” was held in OARDC’s Fisher Auditorium and focused on the new agricultural initiative of the conservancy and its interaction with natural areas and natural resource conservation in Ohio.

Laura Belleville, director of conservation programs, also participated in the campus visit.

“This was an excellent opportunity for dialogue on the Ohio chapter’s interest in agriculture and its interactions with natural areas and resources,” said Steve Slack, OARDC director.

About the group. The mission of the conservancy, which originated in the 1950s, is to preserve biodiversity. The organization not only covers the United States, but also extends its work globally to help like-minded partner organizations across the world.

Today, the conservancy focuses on science-based conservation by design.

“What I wanted to talk about is where the Nature Conservancy is going,” said Shank.

He said the three most important objectives the Ohio chapter is focusing around include forestry, the Great Lakes, and agriculture.

Eco-regions in Ohio. Ohio is home to four eco-regions. The Great Lakes is home to the largest freshwater system in the world. Most remaining bogs and fens in Ohio area found in the Western Allegheny Plateau.

The Interior Low Plateau includes the Edge of Appalachia Preserve as well as parts of Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

The North Central Till Plain, however, is a patchwork of farms and towns dotted with forests, wetlands, prairies, lakes, and slow-flowing rivers.

It is this eco-region in particular that presents many challenges for the conservancy in dealing with agriculture.

Objectives. Shank said one of the main objectives of his visit to OARDC was to determine ways in which the conservancy can work more closely with OARDC and other Ohio State University resources to enhance the effectiveness of their efforts.

Although agriculture is a relatively new focus for the conservancy, they have been involved in conservation efforts involving agriculture in the Darby Creek Watershed, which is home to over 100 species of fish and 38 species of mussels.

Shank said that the experience has been a learning one for their organizations and they realize working with the agricultural community presents its own set of unique challenges.

Strategies the organization has used in the past don’t necessarily work well when dealing with the agricultural community. That’s why there are seeking partnerships with other organizations who have experience dealing with agriculture.

Shank said that the Nature Conservancy’s objective when it comes to agricultural land and usage is not to return the land to what it was before is was used in agriculture.

Instead, its focus is on slowing degradation of sensitive areas and maintaining these area’s biodiversity and sustainability.

Biggest issue. The biggest issue to be dealt with across Ohio agriculture is run-off of sediment and top soil in agricultural areas, said Shank, who was a former director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

OARDC faculty agree that the challenge can be met, and developing partnerships is one way to accomplish that goal.

“It’s fortuitous to get us all together to talk about our common interest in agriculture,” said Randy Rowe, chair of OARDC’s plant pathology department.

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