Mike Johnson, Chief of Conservation
Summit Metro Parks are places where we take refuge from the stress of daily life. But parks offer refuge to more than our human citizens. Each Metro Park is home to an astonishing array of rare, threatened and endangered species of plants and animals. In fact, our parks host 264 of the rarest, and most endangered, species on Earth. For nearly 100 years, park district staff have worked tirelessly, often behind the scenes, to protect our natural areas and the rare species living within.
Why Protect Endangered Species?
Every living species on earth is a chemical factory that is the result of millions of years of experimentation and biological perfection. Most of our medicines are derived from chemicals and compounds that were first produced by plants and animals. We do not invent new medicines and products as much as we mimic what nature has already accomplished. Thus, it is in our self-interest to preserve all living species on earth. But there is another side to the conservation of species. The conservation of biodiversity is similar to the preservation of art. Every species is a masterpiece. As a society, we collect and curate and spend millions of dollars to preserve species because we have decided they have an intrinsic value that transcends monetary value. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is unambiguous in this regard: the American people value every species on earth and extinction within our borders is unacceptable.
What Does it Mean to be Listed as Rare?
But who gets to decide what is rare or endangered and what is being done to protect these creatures? At the global level, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN Red List) is considered the most comprehensive inventory of global conservation status. Within Summit Metro Parks, there are 14 globally ranked Red List species, including tubercled rein-orchids, Great Plains Ladies’-tresses and ginseng. With a little patience, park patrons can observe Red-Listed cerulean warblers at Deep Lock Quarry Metro Park and Henslow’s sparrows at Silver Creek Metro Park — these species are considered stable for now.
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is the platform for national-scale species conservation within the United States. Overseen by the Fish and Wildlife Service, federally listed plants and animals have the strongest legal protections, and Summit Metro Parks is home to nine of these species. The federally endangered Indiana bat has been seen at Liberty Park and Clinton Conservation Area. Our most imperiled species is the federally threatened northern monkshood, which clings to existence on a single rock ledge along the banks of the Cuyahoga River.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources also maintains a list of species that are rare and endangered in Ohio. Some of these species may be very common outside of the state, but their representation here is poor. Most of the rare species in the Metro Parks are actually plants that you may walk right by and never know it. Finally, Summit Metro Parks maintains a list of species considered noteworthy to Summit County. For example, while 99 percent of the magnificent American chestnut were eliminated by a blight nearly 100 years ago, there are a few immune specimens hanging on at Gorge, Sand Run and Munroe Falls Metro Parks. The West Virginia white is a small, rapidly declining butterfly being impacted by the invasive (and toxic) garlic mustard that’s replacing the native plant used by the caterpillar of this species. Another interesting species is the five-lined skink, the only lizard native to Northeast Ohio.
How Do We Conserve our Protected Species?
Summit Metro Parks staff employ a host of tools to help manage and protect our rare and endangered species. We are utilizing genetic cloning to save our northern monkshood. Prescribed fire and herbicides are used to battle the invasive plants displacing our native ecosystems. But the most effective thing we can do to protect our rare and endangered plants and wildlife is to leave them alone. We work closely with park planners, naturalists and operations staff to plan trails and recreational areas around our sensitive habitats and species. And, we depend on your help in these important efforts. You can do your part by staying on designated trails and taking nothing with you when you leave our parks. By working together, we can all protect these amazing species for generations to come.
For more great stories like this, check out Green Islands Magazine, a bi-monthly publication from Summit Metro Parks.