Streams and their corridors are inhabited by a rich diversity of wildlife species that includes more than 153 fishes, 63 mussels, 1,200 aquatic insects, 170 birds, 12 mammals, 10 reptiles and 14 amphibians. Streams also benefit all Ohioans by providing water supply, recreational opportunities, beautiful scenery and drainage. The physical alteration and degradation of these habitats, however, has negatively impacted both resource and resource users in many ways.
While water quality in many streams has improved as the result of the Clean Water Act, only half of our monitored stream miles currently meet their aquatic life use designations. While the emphasis of this program is on the restoration and protection of physical habitats in and adjacent to streams, these strategies will also result in improved water quality, more miles meeting use designations and increased benefits to all Ohioans.
- Protect high-quality stream habitats and restore others based on the presence of a high aquatic diversity, rare and endangered species, good sport fishing, biological integrity and other related criteria.
- Through partnerships, collaboration and coordination, participate in and support stream and watershed efforts by other agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other groups.
- Protect and restore forested riparian corridors, floodplains and wetlands through conservation easements, acquisition, and landowner programs and incentives.
- Remove dams that are no longer needed or justified.
- Develop and support programs and incentives that encourage and maintain good stewardship practices for riparian and in-stream habitats.
The structural variability of streams creates highly diverse habitats that are inhabited by many aquatic species and over 90 percent of Ohio’s state-listed aquatic species are primarily stream-dwelling. Unfortunately, the rich diversity of streams is imperiled by a multitude of stressors. Habitat loss and degradation, changes to hydrology, excessive sedimentation, channelization and loss of floodplain connectivity all impact aquatic communities. Consequently, resource agencies and conservation groups realize that habitat protection and restoration must be done at the watershed level to be most effective. Implementation of watershed approaches requires collaboration with other agencies and NGO’s.
It is not possible to implement stream conservation strategies across the entire state. Consequently, we have focused our efforts on a smaller scale. Focus Watersheds were selected based on the diversity of aquatic organisms known as Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
The Division of Wildlife has identified eleven Focus Watersheds to concentrate efforts. These include the highest quality watersheds in Ohio. Watersheds in both the Lake Erie and Ohio River drainages representing all of Ohio’s major ecoregions have been included. All have diverse habitat types, high use designations, excellent biodiversity and most are Ohio Scenic Rivers. Within these focus watersheds, we have targeted high-quality sub-focus watersheds to better allocate our resources.
In-Stream Restoration Projects
Riparian Corridor Protection
A number of riparian corridor protection efforts are underway in Ohio in which the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Division of Wildlife works in several different collaborative partnerships, each composed of both governmental and non-governmental organizations. Most of these partnerships seek protection through a series of acquisitions and easements. Restoration efforts currently underway focus on the Kokosing River, Pymatuning Creek, Grand River, Clear Creek and Big and Little Darby Creeks.
- Ohio Department of Natural Resources
- ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves
- The Nature Conservancy
- Knox, Fairfield, and Franklin County Metroparks
- Ashtabula County Soil and Water Conservation District
Man has been straightening streams for hundreds of years to accommodate roads, residential and commercial development and drainage. The problem is that streams were not meant to be straight and trying to tame them through channelization usually results in negative impacts on habitat and aquatic diversity. Luckily, the "straight is better" mentality has changed and there is an effort underway to fix past impacts. One such restoration project is on Mac-O-Chee Creek in Logan County. This project restored 1,500 feet of channelized stream. Watch the video below to learn more about this restoration project:
Alternate Cattle Water Sources
It has been a common practice to allow cattle access to streams for water. The problem is that cattle in streams can negatively impact stream habitat and aquatic organisms. Cattle can degrade stream banks, add organic waste to the stream and trample aquatic organisms like freshwater mussels. There is a simple solution to this problem that has been effectively used around the state. By fencing out cattle and providing an alternate water source out of the stream channel, the stream will recover over time and aquatic diversity will rebound.
The ODNR Division of Wildlife has worked with several Soil and Water Conservation Districts to exclude cattle from rivers and streams and develop alternate water sources for their use.
Man has been building dams for hundreds of years to accommodate a variety of needs, including flood control, water source, hydropower and recreation. Many of these dams still serve a useful purpose and need to remain in operation. Many others no longer serve a useful purpose and the best option for many of these dams is removal. Dams negatively impact stream habitat and aquatic diversity by lowering water quality, preventing the movement of fish, and altering stream habitat. There has been an effort recently to start removing dams and restoring streams back to the way they were. Many of these removal projects have restored stream habitat and allowed for the recovery of aquatic life.