Stewards of the Darby (SOD)

Our Land Is Our Responsibility

We, the residents of the area publicized as the "Little Darby National Wildlife Refuge," in the counties of Madison and Union,  want our voices heard!  We, who live and work in this farming community, believe the impact to area businesses would jeopardize their very existence. The Madison County Auditor's Office projects the affected region generates $300 per acre, which "turns over" 6-7 times (in buying power) before leaving the community.  This translates into a potential deficit of $90 million dollars to our area businesses.   

An article in the Columbus Dispatch, dated May 9, 1999, states, in part, "Ohio has only one small (Federal) wildlife refuge, on Lake Erie."  In fact, from the website of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, referencing the 1999 Land Acquisition Budget Request, there are already over 8,000 acres in Ohio wildlife refuges.  There are also many wildlife areas in Ohio, including the Big Island Wildlife Area, just west of Marion, Ohio, in Marion County, boasting 5,032 acres of bird-watchability, and only a 45-minute drive from downtown Columbus.  There are also the Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, at 8,620 acres; and Wyandot Wildlife Area, 328 acres, both of which are slightly over an hour's drive from Franklin County. 

In the immediate area, there are also 11 Metroparks, containing over 16,000 acres that are readily available for public use (i.e., recreation, bird-watching, hiking, etc.).  The same article states:  "...we pay a large amount of money to Washington (D.C.).  We're not getting our fair share of the Interior Department budget."  A Wildlife Refuge is not a guarantee of receiving our fair share of that budget:  in 1998, the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge received only $48,458 of the $73,253 that should have been paid "in lieu of taxes," as posted on USFWS's website.

United States Representative Ralph S. Regula, in a February 14, 1999, article in the Columbus Dispatch, asserts:  "It is simply irresponsible to take on new land responsibilities, and give grants to cities, States and private institutions, when we cannot afford to adequately take care of our primary Federal responsibilities - the public lands."
The State Forest Department manages and protects 7.1 million acres of forestland in Ohio, for the benefit of all Ohio citizens.  181,000 acres of State-owned forestland are available for multiple benefits, including wildlife, recreation, timber products, and soil and water protection.  In addition, there are 72 State Parks in Ohio where the public can interact with nature at its leisure.  With this great abundance of parks and wildlife areas, all supported by our tax dollars, is there really a need for more public land?
Actual area land auctions show that a 500-acre farm is worth $1.5 million dollars.  To this initial cost, add a reasonably priced home at a cost of $85,000, and minimal equipment at approximately $641,000, and the combined start-up cost totals $2.226 MILLION DOLLARS.  After committing to an investment of such magnitude, why would our astute, agriculturally- and family-minded farmers want to sell?  In the case of the proposed Darby Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, most of the 53,692 acres (the current acreage that the USFWS has publicly stated in mid-June, 1999, up from the original "50,000 acres or less" that was announced) is land that has been acquired by our farmers over many generations.  This "ownership endurance" enables us to continue our conservation-accredited farming skills, thus growing with our investments.  At an average of 4.5 persons per home, this equates to the possible residential displacement of over 7,500 people from the Study Area alone, with a loss of approximately 4,000 taxpayers to the community.
It has been suggested that there are many "willing sellers" in the four-county area that is targeted for a Refuge.  A comprehensive study done within the proposed Study Area shows that over 98.5% of the residents are opposed to the Refuge, and have signed letters of opposition to that intention, and that number is still growing!
Bo W. Thott, of Cutler, Maine, compiled a study of "Willing Sellers" in various parts of the country in conjunction with the USFWS.  The study states:  "Fifty percent of those responding, from a mailing list of 498, to which not all responded, were coerced in some way to sell their land."  (Reference copy may be obtained by request from the Washington County Alliance, W.C.A., HCR 69, Box 336, Cutler, ME 04626-9602, for $3 per copy.)
An article written by John Fulton Lewis, dated November 23,1998, entitled "Lots For Sale In A Last Great Place," mentions the profit motive that seems to drive the decisions made by The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  Forget those pledges of "intent to protect and preserve the area from urban sprawl."  TNC has publicly announced that it will sell building lots on property that was originally purchased by TNC in two counties in eastern Virginia, part of 45,000 acres of sparsely populated land that should never be blighted by construction, either residential or commercial.  These building lots will sell for $40,000-200,000; this was land that was acquired under TNC's promise that it would preserve habitats and species by buying the lands and waterways needed for them to survive.  David Hickman, an Eastern Shore farmer and a member of the Virginia Farm Bureau's Board Of Directors, has denounced TNC for its hypocrisy.

We have a proven track record of providing Americans with a diversity of products in the global marketplace, with a combination of wheat, corn, and soybeans; there would be a loss of over 3 million bushels of grain from the Study Area!  With well over 50,000 acres lost to food production, how many non-farmers would be willing to relinquish their combined homes and yards to replace the fertile soil that presently feeds so many, that would be permanently lost by the introduction of a National Wildlife Refuge?  At some point, we will no longer have the abundance of high-quality, reasonably priced food that we now take for granted at our supermarkets.
The growing of food to nourish our citizens is certainly as much a consideration as re-establishing a tallgrass prairie.  Eating is not going to go out of style, and we are not willingly going to yield our bountiful land to either developers or Federal Agencies who say they are "protecting us" from development.  The argument that farmers can simply "purchase farms somewhere else" lacks validity, because it presumes that such profoundly fertile land is available at the same cost (if it is available for purchase at all) as the land that is targeted, which is some of the richest soil in the State of Ohio.
Those of us who have been entrusted with the privilege of caring for the land, know well the proper care and nurturing required to maintain, protect and preserve our farmlands, and sustain a well-established wildlife habitat through conservation management.  With an eye to the future, and the experience of almost two hundred years, we know that Our Land Is Our Responsibility!

Julie K. Smithson
213 Thorn Locust Lane
London, OH  43140

[email protected]