BUFFALO, N.Y. -- An important 14-acre wetland and wildlife
habitat that is being donated to the town of West Seneca this week
is a unique and valuable ecosystem in an urban setting that should
be preserved, according to University at Buffalo graduate students
and researchers who have developed a restoration plan for it.
The UB researchers will briefly discuss highlights of their
restoration plan during an event sponsored by the West Seneca
Commission for the Conservation of the Environment on March 23 at 7
p.m. at the Burchfield Nature and Arts Center, 2001 Union Rd., to
celebrate the donation of the property to the town of West
"This is a rare site for Western New York in the heavily
industrialized Buffalo River watershed," says David Blersch, PhD,
UB research scientist and coordinator of UB's Ecosystem Restoration
through Interdisciplinary Exchange (ERIE) program.
The stewardship plan for the West Seneca site was developed as
part of a graduate course at UB called "Ecosystem Restoration
Practicum," required for students in the university's National
Science Foundation-funded ERIE program. ERIE is training a new
generation of researchers in environmental and ecosystem
restoration, using the ecological treasures of Western New York and
the Great Lakes basin as a "living laboratory;" it's one of few
programs in the nation that trains students to take an
interdisciplinary approach to restoring natural ecosystems by
drawing on fields ranging from science and engineering to policy,
ethics and cultural considerations.
According to Blersch, the site, adjacent to Buffalo Creek off
Clinton Road, is an "oxbow wetland," a natural feature created when
part of the old river channel is cut off from the main channel by
high flow events. What remains is a new, curved body of water
situated next to, but separate from, the main river, and which over
time, becomes a wetland.
Wetlands like these create a rich habitat for a diverse mix of
species, Blersch explains, adding that they also provide a
critical, albeit often underappreciated, service to the surrounding
"Think of wetlands as nature's kidneys," he says. "Because their
water moves slowly, wetlands filter out a lot of pollutants from
runoff that otherwise could pollute larger bodies of water. By
absorbing pollutants, wetlands can be thought of as buffering
surrounding areas from pollution runoff from excessive rainfall.
They are doing -- for free -- what storm sewers and treatment
facilities would cost a couple of million dollars to do, all while
providing natural habitat, too."
Unlike most locations along the lower Buffalo River watershed,
this site was never developed despite its location on the outskirts
of a metropolitan area, he says.
In a field study of the ecological health of the site, Blersch
and six UB students found that it is home to an interesting mix of
diverse, native species, especially birds such as woodpeckers,
migratory birds and water birds like green herons and night
They also found that it would make an ideal site for frogs and
toads, species that are rapidly losing suitable habitats
"Amphibian populations are crashing globally," says Blersch "and
we don't know exactly why. Because this West Seneca site is a
wetland not connected to the river, there is little danger of fish
eating frog eggs or young. This and other factors make it an
excellent breeding ground for amphibians."
The UB study suggests how simple restoration techniques could
help improve the oxbow site as a habitat for amphibians, Blersch
says, including removing blockages to improve water quality and
retaining dead wood for habitat value.
In collaboration with Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper, the UB
trainees conducted extensive biological and engineering assessments
at the site and developed other ways to enhance existing habitats,
such as how to manage invasive species and encourage native ones;
they also explored ways to involve the community and owners of
adjacent properties as stewards of the site. They gave
presentations to site stakeholders and developed a comprehensive
restoration and stewardship plan, including plans for a research
field camp program with Canisius High School, which owns an
As this practicum demonstrates, says Blersch, nearby lakes,
rivers, creeks and shorelines are benefiting from the ERIE program
and its efforts involving UB students in restoring ecosystems in
Western New York.
ERIE involves the collaboration of students and scholars from
the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering
in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the
departments of American Studies, Biological Sciences, Chemistry,
Geography, Geological Sciences and Philosophy, all in the UB
College of Arts and Sciences.
For more information about ERIE, contact David Blersch at email@example.com or