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Wildlife area to offer new opportunities

LAWRENCE COUNTY - The great outdoors in Lawrence County just got a little "greater."

More than 4,000 acres of forest in southern Ohio, much of which is in Lawrence County, will once again be available for public hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing thanks to a 5-year agreement between the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife and international conservation group The Nature Conservancy.

Accessible from State Route 93, the Ironton Forest Wildlife Area - as it will be known - features a diverse landscape that supports wildlife habitat including high ridges, hollows notched by streams and forested wetlands.

The area boasts white-tailed deer and wild turkey populations and provides important habitat to species of special interest, including migratory songbirds, bobcats and black bear, ODNR officials said.

"Habitat conservation is a big part of the Division of Wildlife's long-term strategic plan," Steven A. Gray, chief of the Division of Wildlife, said in a written release. "This agreement is a great example of how to increase opportunities for the public to enjoy the outdoors."

The land is located within the Ironton Ranger District of the Wayne National Forest. Conservancy officials hope one day this property will permanently become part of Ohio's only national forest.

The Division of Wildlife plans to dedicate the area this fall and mark the area with signs as a wildlife area managed by the Division of Wildlife. Until the Nature Conservancy purchased the land last year and early this year, the property was open to the public since 1996 while it was owned by MeadWestvaco Corp.

"The Nature Conservancy is pleased to work with the Division of Wildlife to open this land to hunters, trappers, anglers, birders and other nature-lovers," Richard Shank, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Ohio, said in a prepared statement.

The Ohio chapter has protected more than 30,500 acres of Ohio's wetlands, forest and prairies through ownership, management or project assistance.

The Ohio chapter owns and manages 35 preserves totaling more than 18,000 acres throughout Ohio.

Wildlife officials are excited about the opportunities this creates.

"The Ironton Forest Wildlife Area will be a significant addition to the more than 200,000 acres of land that is currently administered by the Division of Wildlife," Gray said.