Two local organizations partner to preserve 29-acre endangered species habitat in Ashtabula County

For 18 years, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History has been working to acquire 29 acres of wetlands in Ashtabula County for conservation two endangered species and eight rare species of plants and animals.

Western Reserve Land Conservancy and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History have permanently conserved 29 acres of land adjacent to Kingsville Swamp in Ashtabula County.The museum’s previous effort to acquire the land failed, but last week, officials with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy and the Museum of Natural History announced they have teamed up to successfully acquire and permanently conserve the 29 acres, which sit adjacent to the museum-owned 90-acre Kingsville Swamp in Ashtabula County.

Located in North Kingsville, the property is now owned by the Museum, which plans to protect and conserve the property’s outstanding forested scrub-shrub wetlands and important upland forest, providing critical forest buffer for its existing 92-acre Kingsville Swamp Preserve adjoining it. 

Land Conservancy director of communications and public relations Jared Saylor says the museum wanted to buy the land 18 years ago, after acquiring the Kingsville Swamp, but the museum couldn’t close the deal.

Saylor says the two organizations have teamed up on several conservation real estate transactions where “we can apply our ability to move quickly on acquiring a property and they can apply their conservation and fundraising expertise to purchase the property back from us,” Saylor explains. “It’s a good story of how we both play to our strengths, all in the name of conservation.”

At least two rare species have been documented on the newly acquired tract of land: the state-threatened Walters' St. Johnswort, a flowering plant that grows abundantly on the property; and the globally vulnerable West Virginia White butterfly, a small white butterfly found primarily in wooded habitats.

The Museum believes the acquisition will be extremely beneficial to the Swamp Preserve, which is home to a diverse array of native plants and animals including eight other species that are listed as rare in Ohio or globally. 

The state endangered species, threatened species, and species of interest on the property include: 
  • Striped maple
  • Inland Serviceberry
  • Veery
  • American black bear
  • Big brown bat
  • Black-throated blue warbler

Globally imperiled or vulnerable species include:
  • Little brown bat
  • Gold-spotted ghost moth
  • Northern long-eared bat

In September 2019, staff members of the Museum’s Natural Areas division approached the Land Conservancy about acquiring the 29-acre property, which was included in a real estate auction. The Land Conservancy in late 2019 attended the auction, was the successful bidder, and provided the capital necessary to close on the acquisition in October 2019.

The West Virginia White butterfly “The Museum tried to acquire this property about 18 years ago through the previous landowner, but we could not seal the deal back then,” Garrett Ormiston, the Natural History Museum’s manager of preserve operations, said in a statement. “When the property was listed for sale again in 2019, with only seven days’ notice, the Land Conservancy was able to mobilize quickly, go to the auction, secure the financing necessary to buy the property if they were the successful bidder, and bid on the property. If they hadn’t, the property would probably now be owned by a sand-and-gravel company or a commercial developer.”

After winning the bid, the Land Conservancy then held the property for the past two years. During this time, the Museum was successful in securing sufficient grant funding from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund through the Ohio Public Works Commission to acquire the property from the Land Conservancy.

Upon taking title to the land from the Land Conservancy late last October, the Museum granted a conservation easement to the Land Conservancy on the entire 29-acre parcel.

According to Ormiston, partnering with Western Reserve Land Conservancy allows his museum to respond quickly to news of properties available for sale. “This partnership plays to both of our strengths: the Museum’s expertise in long-term preservation and management of high-quality habitats such as this one, and the Land Conservancy’s ability to identify strategic land-protection opportunities and implement projects in a timely fashion.”

The Museum plans to control invasive species and protect its existing sensitive habitat as a nature preserve. Ormiston says the museum is considering limited public access to field trips.