Campus News

Law students key in obtaining international wetland status for Niagara River Corridor

By CHARLES ANZALONE

Published October 2, 2019

“The UB School of Law’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic and the UB School of Architecture and Planning helped immensely with this work.”
Jajean Rose Burney, deputy executive director
Western New York Land Conservancy

The Niagara River — and pro bono work by UB law students — gain national prominence this week when the river and its corridor become a Wetland of International Importance and part of the Ramsar Convention.

Thirty-three students enrolled in the School of Law’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic invested more than 1,450 pro bono hours to perform the legal and policy work required for the Ramsar designation, in which the Niagara River Corridor joins more than 2,300 wetlands in the world recognized for their rare and unique habitat, wildlife and biological diversity. The corridor is the 40th Ramsar site in the U.S.

“The designation will help everyone see that the river is one of the most important natural places on Earth, putting our backyard on par with places like the Galapagos Islands and the Everglades,” says Jajean Rose Burney, deputy executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy and the U.S. co-chair of the binational Niagara River Corridor Ramsar Site Steering Committee.

“This was a bottom-up effort, led by individuals and organizations who live and work right here along the river.”

The Niagara River Corridor will officially receive the Ramsar designation during a ceremony on Oct. 3 on Goat Island on the American side of Niagara Falls. Representatives from the Niagara River Greenway Commission; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; UB; the Ramsar Site Steering Committee; the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; and the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation are among those who will attend the ceremony. Also expected to attend is Rep. Brian Higgins.

Other events in the celebration include kayak and bike tours of the Lower Niagara River and Maid of the Mist tours following the designation ceremony.

The Ramsar designation comes from the Ramsar Convention, a global treaty supporting the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and related waters. The treaty was signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971.

“As someone who has visited many Ramsar sites, participated in international conferences, and researched and published about Ramsar, I can confirm that the Niagara River Corridor is an outstanding site,” says Kim Diana Connolly, vice dean for advocacy and experiential education, and director of clinical legal education for the UB School of Law. “It is a superb example of importance and excellence.”

Ryan A. McPherson, UB’s chief sustainability officer, says the designation not only gives rightful recognition to one of the most iconic bi-national rivers in the world, “but it also celebrates an innovative partnership among the University at Buffalo law school, our students, leading environmental intuitions, local elected leaders, business and the community at large.”  

“It has been an honor to collaborate with these organizations and people as we work to showcase the mighty Niagara,” McPherson says.

The origins of the effort date back nearly two decades and include the watershed “Rethinking the Niagara Frontier” initiative of 2001. Led by the UB School of Architecture and Planning and Ontario’s Waterfront Heritage Trust, the plan reimagined the Niagara River Corridor as a natural heritage resource and spawned a series of ecologically focused tourism, economic development and greenway planning efforts.

Rose Burney, who worked on a number of these efforts as an urban planning student at UB and a research assistant at its Urban Design Project, praised the work of UB in securing the Ramsar designation for the Niagara River.

“The UB School of Law’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic and the UB School of Architecture and Planning helped immensely with this work,” he says.

Activists dedicated to the revival of the Niagara River say designating the area as a Ramsar site draws attention to the Niagara River and its surroundings. The Ramsar recognition will boost efforts to preserve the integrity of the Niagara River and create a healthy shoreline everyone can enjoy, they say.

“What the Niagara River already has is a lot of boating, fishing, hunting, bird-watching, and swimming,” says Rose Burney. “And what Ramsar can do is draw the attention of the people outside the region to the Niagara River.

“The Ramsar site label, the award, makes it obvious that this place is incredibly important, incredibly diverse and reason to come here.”

Gregory Stevens, executive director of the Niagara River Greenway Commission, says the Ramsar designation is another important tool in restoring the Niagara River to health after the severe industrial pollution of the past.

“Core to the mission of the Niagara River Greenway is the restoration of healthy riparian ecology, and promoting global awareness of the unique importance of the Niagara ecosystem,” says Stevens, who called the Niagara River’s revival a symbol of the resurgence of the region. “The Ramsar destination will shine a bright light on all the tremendous work underway to restore the health of the mighty Niagara.”