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Nurturing Nature In Columbus' Ravines

Biologist Mike Graziano beside a vernal pool that he and others constructed.
Sam Hendren
89.7 NPR News
Biologist Mike Graziano beside a vernal pool that he and others constructed.

Biologist Mike Graziano loves to explore the Clintonville area’s ravines. According to an acquaintance, this Ohio State University PhD candidate is the next E.O. Wilson.  

Graziano walks down a familiar path in Glen Echo ravine. He scans the landscape for things that others might miss.

“There is a nesting pair of barred owls that have taken up residence here and they make appearances here every now and then, especially the younger ones," Graziano says. "We have Coopers Hawks that nest in here as well. Funny, I was here back in May and had a barred owl right on the tail of a Coopers Hawk chasing it out of the ravine."

Glen Echo is teaming with wildlife, says the 33-year-old biologist.  It’s one of the things that attracts him to Columbus’s ravines.

“They’re really unique," he says. "It’s part of a system that was once a lot more widespread in Columbus, and you have these little slivers now that are a glimpse of what used to be all around."

Graziano scrambles up a ridge on the ravine’s northeast side; the acorns from giant oaks crunching under his feet. Those acorns, he says, help nurture the ravine’s renewal.

“We’re on this ridge that I think makes Glen Echo really unique in that it’s retained a lot of the species richness that I think was once more prominent down in the ravine," Graziano says. "We’re surrounded by white oaks and black oaks a couple of hundred or more years old.  And the trees up here are regenerating nicely too.  You see a lot of little white oaks and black oaks that are popping up."

Nature's comeback

Graziano says 450 different species of plants and animals have been tallied in Glen Echo. Even so, he and others are working to increase the ravine’s biodiversity. Two years ago, they constructed a vernal pool.

“It might be small but it can pack a punch with regard to species," he says. "There’s not really a correlation between the size of the pool and the species richness."

Surrounding the pool, plants such as winterberry, iris and buttonbush have been added.

“There was an effort to put in native plants that we see around vernal pools, actually right now the winterberry is looking nice," Graziano says. "It’s got these bright red berries; it’s a species of holly that we find here in Central Ohio. There’s a goldfinch that’s coming in and taking some seeds.”

Certain frogs and salamanders are also making a comeback in Glen Echo.

“They really rely on these sites; these ephemeral wetlands that usually people don’t think twice about," he says. "They see a site that’s wet in the spring and then dries up but it’s a really important if not critical habitat for amphibians and invertebrates."

On a mission

Graziano says his love for nature started when he was six or seven.

“In the first grade I checked out a book from the library called Animal Behavior.  And I almost never returned it until the end of the year – I just kept on re-checking it out," he says. "And pretty much at that time I couldn’t escape from the biological vortex, if you will."

He’s studied ecosystems across the US, always looking for ways to add what’s missing.

“When I look at a forest or any patch of land, I like to think of what it used to be like, and I think I have a responsibility, really, to try and replace those missing parts.”

The next E.O. Wilson?  Maybe.  Columbus and its wild creatures can be thankful that Mike Graziano is here.