Native planting and habitat restoration tour

On Thursday, July 16th, I returned from Cleveland.
A little less than an hour after I returned home, I was in a car, traveling south, with Diane E. and Suzanne T. We were going to the Native Planting and Habitat Restoration Tour that had been organized by WNY PRISM. That alphabet soup name stands for Western New York Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management. At about 4 p.m., we arrived at RiverBend in south Buffalo. That is the site of the former Republic Steel plant.

There were approximately fifteen persons participating on the tour. We were given a wealth of illustrated materials about both native and invasive species. This includes a lovely little book, produced by Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, called “Western New York Guide to Native Plants for your Garden.” The book is nicely illustrated and gives helpful information for planting native species in your garden.

Andrea Locke, from PRISM, explained the purpose of the tour. It is to highlight Invasive Species Awareness Week and to spotlight native alternatives to these invasive plants. Many of the invasive plants were brought into Western New York as ornamentals in gardens. Unfortunately, they escaped from the garden and reseeded themselves elsewhere, such as along riverbanks and in wooded areas. They tend to crowd out native species. Some of the invasive plants include purple loosestrife and Japanese knotweed.

New York State prohibits and regulates invasive plants. The goal of restoration of any site is to eradicate the invasive species and then to create a “resilient native ecosystem.”

Much of the property currently looks like this.

This area was the site of heavy industry, but much work is being done to restore it to its former healthy condition. After tons of soil was brought in, trees and shrubs were planted and 49 species of wild flowers were hydroseeded. 

Josh Konovitz of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper gave the tour of RiverBend. He talked about all of the slag and other contaminants that were present there when Riverkeeper began doing restoration work in 2013.  He said that most of the work was done by hand to provide for less disturbance of the new seedlings. It was decied not to use any heavy machinery.
“Everyone should help Riverkeeper out to maintain the buffer,” Josh said.
Trees and shrubs that do well in the area include willow, alder, river birches, and dogwoods.  The roses that do well include Carolina, Virginia, and swamp roses. If you find a multiflora rose, that is invasive, and you’ll do well to dig it up and remove it.

Nature and industry… view across this freshwater estuary of Lake Erie.

One of the native plants that are beginning to thrive along the estuary.

This is also a native species.

It is good to see bees and other pollinators around all of these plants.

Exploring the ecosystem as it is re-established.

After leaving RiverBend, we went to the Buffalo Creek Oxbow Wetland in West Seneca. There, we were guided by Lin from Riverkeeper and Robbyn Drake, also of Riverkeeper. This piece of land was originally owned by the Jacobs family. They donated it to the Town of West Seneca. Lin described the land as “early succession forest,” with trees aged from 30 to 60 years.
In the 1920s, the area was farmland. Afterward, it was covered by grass and weeds. Later invasive species took over. Now that Riverkeeper is working to restore the land, 12,000 square feet have been cleared of Japanese knotweed and phragmites. The invasive species were manually removed.
“It is important to keep the place intact and with native species,” Lin said.
Robbyn explained that there currently is no public access to the 14-acre site. The only way to visit is on a tour.
Problems in the area, which is on Cayuga Creek, include flooding and problems with beavers and deer.
Desirable trees in the area include swamp white oak and service berry.

Trees that like “wet feet” do well here.

This is a bloodroot. It is considered to be a native ephemeral species.

A dam was built in the 1950s. Because of the flooding issue, there are now levees and permanent sandbags along Cayuga Creek.

This is another view of the creek.

The dam creates a dangerous situation. Swimming is definitely not recommended. Even experienced swimmers could drown here.

The main problem with invasive species is that they crowd out native species and create a monoculture. It is much preferable to have a diversity of native plant species than a huge field populated by a single non-native species.

The last site that Diane, Suzanne, and I visited was Seneca Bluffs, located on the Buffalo River. Like the other projects, this is a work in progress. This site, in the City of Buffalo, is owned by Erie County, which purchased it through a New York State Parks grant.
Andrea described it as a “natural park in a highly urban setting.”
The site is in the early stages of restoration. The goal is to eradicate Japanese knotweed and phragmite. The knotweed is eradicated with the use of herbicides, which are “spot sprayed.” The goal is to eliminate only the invasive plants. It is necessary to avoid “overspraying” or “drift,” which could injure desirable plants. Only trained, certified people can apply chemicals, either by spraying or by injection into the plants to be removed.
To keep the Japanese knotweed from coming back, the ground can be covered with a thick biotech fabric. This fabric cannot be removed.

This is Joe-Pye Weed. It is a highly desirable native species.

This is what an area looks like immediately after the invasive species have been eradicated.

This is a small glimpse of the biotech fabric, underneath all of that grass.

The group heads to the shore.

This is the Buffalo River. It is described as being “highly impacted.”
All of the restoration in the sites that I depicted in this entry, as well as the other sites that we did not visit during the tour (Tifft Nature Preserve and Times Beach Nature Preserve) is being funded by a $2.3 million dollar federal grant called the “Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.”
I hope, in the future, to show how the work at these sites has progressed.

3 thoughts on “Native planting and habitat restoration tour”

  1. Thanks for the tour! I find it fascinating how these pockets of projects make such an impact on our environment and how important they are to have in place. Showcasing them like this is great for everyone to find out more about them.

  2. The photos in this post are amazing. I thank you for sharing your journey. I think these kinds of projects are amazing and have a lasting effect on our world. I think more places should promote tours like this. I wish more former industrial sites would return to nature. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Thank you very much, Kim and Susan.I am thrilled to see lush, colorful life come back to formerly industrial sites.

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