“Aww, he’s so cute,” cooed a group of dozen flower-print and school-color garbed girls, all clustered around me last week at Ottawa’s Memorial Park. They could have cared less about me. They were talking about the reptile that poked his head out from my sweatshirt sleeve. The girls were among the 461 Putnam County students scheduled to attend the Annual Fifth Grade Conservation Tour. This was the 48th year that Putnam County Soil and Water Conservation District arranged the tour and the second time that Tyree the Bloodred Corn Snake was featured on the Wildlife stop.

Times have changed, not that it’s news to anyone. I don’t remember my class’s participation in the tour, but I’m pretty sure there was no snake. Nor did we talk about pollinators and edible insects. We probably saw a cow, and I’m sure I loved visiting cows on a school day. But no bovine could surpass Grandpa’s sweet, brown-eyed Jersey cows. Back then, we may have been given cups of freshly-drawn milk during the field trip — full fat, unpasteurized, not a bit of homogenization in sight. Again, I was spoiled (no pun intended) by Jersey dairy.

Last week, I asked each group to name examples of wildlife that lived right here in Northwest Ohio 250 years ago (FYI: wolves, cougars, bear, bison, and elk were found across the state). Then I asked them to tell me those that live here now, sans forests and wetlands (the last bison reported in the state was killed in Lawrence County in 1803; Happy Birthday, Ohio.) By 1909, elk, bobcats, wolves, black bear, mountain lions, wild turkeys and even white-tailed deer were declared extinct in Ohio. It wasn’t a cheerful comparison. Yet, as the kids shouted out the wild animals that they have seen in their short time on Earth, I realized something. When I was a fifth-grader, none of us would have seen a bald eagle through the school bus window. Two years ago, My Steven had to convince our national bird that it ought to stop harassing the chickens. Maybe we, as a species, are getting better at this conservation thing.