People have always impacted their environments, the scale is all that has changed over time.
When the first humans moved into the Oak Openings, they came to take advantage of the resources of the Maumee River, as well as the hunting and foraging opportunities the region provided. Acorns, blueberries, cranberries, herbs, roots, deer, bison, elk, fish, foul, all contributed to the well-being of the people who lived here. At first a place to visit seasonally, the Oak Openings Region seems to have had some permanent settlements 4000 years ago.
- Virtual First Ohioans–Ohio Historical Society
- Oak Openings Archaeology: Spatial Statistical Discernment of Late Archaic Camps
We don’t often think of the first humans visiting the Oak Openings Region as ecosystem engineers, but that’s exactly what they were. They hunted, they foraged, and they used fire as a tool to promote the success of these efforts. Those fires helped maintain prairie and savanna habitat by preventing woody shrub succession until the arrival of European homesteaders in the 1800s.
European settlement disrupted the fire disturbance crucial to the ecosystems of the Oak Openings Region. While the sandy soils left much to be desired in terms of farming, the removal of fire from the landscape as well as the subsequent logging and ditching changed the face of the Oak Openings Region forever.
Removing water and fire was like a one-two punch to the Region. With out these two natural interventions, remnants of the Oak Openings that hadn’t already been altered by agriculture or suburban expansion have been largely overtaken by a denser oak forest, and the sun-loving species that characterized the Oak Openings have greatly declined.
Humans continue as ecosystem engineers in the Oak Openings. Our activities continue to impact the extent, health and restoration potential of what remains of one of the “Last Great Places.” You can make a difference! Volunteer, restore your own property, or simply learn more about how important the Oak Openings is to our community.