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Birdland on the Niagara

This is where the Buffalo Harbor Development Commission, the Niagara Greenway Commission and Higgins' waterfront planning come into play. It is essential that the NRIBA designation is understood and addressed by all planning agencies and decisions. It is critical that the threats to the area are understood and addressed. Appropriate development that recognizes both the fragility of the area and the global conservation consequences related to its stewardship and development should become a baseline indicator from which all planning grows.

Editor's Note: With at least five test towers already standing, wind developers in concert with local advocates are attempting to install hundreds of industrial wind turbines in the Niagara region. The threat to this fragile area is real. Both of the photos included in the text are available in the NWW photo library as Birdland on the Niagara 1 & 2.
Each autumn, beginning in late November, a spectacular and globally important natural occurrence unfolds on the Niagara River.

The event is the annual gull migration that brings as many as 19 species of gulls, in one of the world's largest concentrations of these birds, literally to our doorsteps. This is a significant ornithological event. On the entire continent of Australia, only three species of gulls have been recorded. In the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, only 11 species of gulls have ever been seen. Remarkably, some of these same gulls that breed in the Arctic refuge travel through the Niagara River Corridor.
Niagara Bird Corridor (2)Nigara Bird Corridor

The river and the surrounding corridor have been identified as a part of the broad Atlantic Flyway and have been designated as a "globally significant" Important Bird Area by a broad coalition of regional and international conservation organizations, citizen groups and government agencies.

Dr. Robert F. Andrle, a long-time officer of the Buffalo Ornithological Society and formerly an Important Bird Area adviser to the National Audubon Society, says the river is "a major Great Lakes waterway bordered by diverse land and aquatic habitats. The region is a wintering area for thousands... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
Each autumn, beginning in late November, a spectacular and globally important natural occurrence unfolds on the Niagara River.

The event is the annual gull migration that brings as many as 19 species of gulls, in one of the world's largest concentrations of these birds, literally to our doorsteps. This is a significant ornithological event. On the entire continent of Australia, only three species of gulls have been recorded. In the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, only 11 species of gulls have ever been seen. Remarkably, some of these same gulls that breed in the Arctic refuge travel through the Niagara River Corridor.
 
Niagara Bird Corridor (2)Nigara Bird Corridor

The river and the surrounding corridor have been identified as a part of the broad Atlantic Flyway and have been designated as a "globally significant" Important Bird Area by a broad coalition of regional and international conservation organizations, citizen groups and government agencies.

Dr. Robert F. Andrle, a long-time officer of the Buffalo Ornithological Society and formerly an Important Bird Area adviser to the National Audubon Society, says the river is "a major Great Lakes waterway bordered by diverse land and aquatic habitats. The region is a wintering area for thousands of waterfowl and gulls. The area provides a variety of breeding and stopover places for many resident and migrating land and water bird species, some of whose populations are of global significance, and all is at risk."

Jennifer Nalbone, habitat and biodiversity coordinator for Great Lakes United, says,"Preserving biodiversity and habitat in the Niagara River is a key component of restoring the Great Lakes."

Clearly, recognition of the uniqueness and significance of this natural and fragile ecological asset and the continuing threats to habitat demand that local and regional leadership focus on appropriate development choices along the river and lake and in the surrounding corridor. These choices and the leadership that makes these choices are of great consequence.

The Great Lakes, adjacent lands and water bodies, especially the Niagara River, are important natural resources with global implications. The lakes contain nearly 20 percent of all the fresh surface water on the Earth. Only the polar ice caps contain more fresh surface water. The river is a major drainage channel for the Great Lakes watershed. The river and the surrounding corridor offers an exciting and important window on the world of birds, bird behavior and bird migration.

Amazing and surprisingly biodiverse habitats provide for numerous plants and wildlife, including fish, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects, as well as birds.

Species that can be found here include numerous migrating and resident butterflies, including endangered regal fritillary, monarchs, red and white admirals, painted ladies and the Baltimore; a wide variety of amphibians and reptiles, including the threatened Jefferson salamander, the blue-spotted salamander, pickerel and chorus frogs, grey tree frogs, box turtles, and red-eared and painted turtles.

Rare plants in the corridor include recently identified old-growth forest trees such as 1,000-plus-year-old cedars along the Niagara escarpment and the remnants of a primeval red, white, and black oak forest on the former DeVeaux Campus in Niagara County.

In addition, there are is a rich diversity of marsh, meadow and forest plants throughout the corridor, including wild ginger, orchids, the rare cliff brake found in the Niagara Glen, and the extremely rare hart's-tongue fern, which is found in a few protected locations along the escarpment.

There are about 100 species of native fish still left in the Niagara, including the rare lake sturgeon, and numerous species of darters and minnow species, including the emerald and spottail shiners, which are excellent food sources for both the larger fish and some of the fish-eating birds.

People are surprised to learn that there are at least 43 species of non-domestic mammals that can be found in the corridor, including at least eight species of bats, all of which are protected by federal law. One bat, which is suspected to be here, the Indiana bat, is on the endangered species list.

The health of the river and our stewardship of this resource is a critical responsibility. Stewardship of these resources is a fundamental responsibility that the newly established Erie Canal Harbor Development Commission, the Niagara Greenway Commission and the development efforts of the Buffalo waterfront by Congressman Brian Higgins, must address.

Important Bird Area

In 1996 an international consortium of conservation and nature organizations, citizen activists and government agencies named the Niagara River Corridor as the first internationally recognized "globally significant" Important Bird Area (NRIBA).

These organizations include Bird Life International, the Canadian Nature Federation and the National Audubon Society, as well as the Canadian Wildlife Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and a wide variety of local and regional groups, including the Buffalo Audubon Society and the Buffalo Ornithological Society.

The NRIBA stretches roughly from one mile out into Lake Erie along both sides of the border in a strip approximately 3.5 miles wide on each side, to approximately 1 mile into Lake Ontario. A conservation plan for the NRIBA was completed and published by these groups in 2002.

The Important Bird Area is a widely recognized conservation tool that has helped to focus the eyes of the world on a network of valuable natural resources. These resources are recognized because they support both birds and biodiversity, and are threatened by things such as habitat loss, inappropriate development, and contamination.

A wide variety of bird species travel through the corridor or breed here, including waterfowl, raptors, songbirds, shorebirds and others. The corridor provides essential habitat. Over 30 species of endangered birds, threatened birds or birds of special concern are found here, including the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, the black tern and the common tern.

Many fish, mammals, amphibians, insects and plants that are on the state Endangered, Threatened, or Species of Special Concern lists also can be found in the corridor. At least four species of birds occur in globally significant numbers. These are: Bonaparte's gull (Larus philadelphia), herring gull (Larus argentatus), canvasback duck (Aythya valisineria) and common merganser (Mergus merganser).

Most IBAs do not carry the "globally significant" designation. This means the health and well being of our local area affects populations and conservation of birds and wildlife on a global basis.

The Bonaparte's gull, which is known to breed in and around the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, migrates through here on its way to winter habitat in the Atlantic. This beautiful bird can be found here in numbers representing as much as 25 percent of the entire global population. As many as 100,000 Bonaparte's gulls have been observed here in a single day.

Serious problems

The area, however, is threatened. You could characterize it as facing a barrage of serious problems. Continuing habitat loss linked to inappropriate development and historic contamination issues, including chemical contamination from industry, poorly treated sewer outflow and urban runoff, continue to impact the waters. These are issues that will affect the future of the NRIBA and the species, including humans, that are supported by it.

This is where the Buffalo Harbor Development Commission, the Niagara Greenway Commission and Higgins' waterfront planning come into play.

It is essential that the NRIBA designation is understood and addressed by all planning agencies and decisions. It is critical that the threats to the area are understood and addressed. Appropriate development that recognizes both the fragility of the area and the global conservation consequences related to its stewardship and development should become a baseline indicator from which all planning grows.

Some leadership eyes are wide open. State Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, whose 145th Assembly District includes lake and river waterfront, says, "This "globally significant' Important Bird Area designation is a part of our planning and stewardship toolbox and reminds us that we have a tremendous responsibility regarding bird and wildlife conservation, and the promotion of global biodiversity in our own community.

"In fact, we use some of the guiding principles of the NRIBA conservation plan in our current decision making regarding a wide variety of projects and programs, including the Times Beach Nature Preserve and several important parks in the district that are being developed along the Buffalo River."

Conservation planning and promoting stewardship is not a unique approach, nor does the IBA exist as an issue or a tool, in a vacuum.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, a treaty between the United States and Canada, expresses the commitment of each country to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem. This agreement has identified the Niagara River and the Buffalo River as two of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern.

Areas of Concern are places where there is a significant impairment to the natural habitat. In the Niagara River, impairment comes from chemical contamination and habitat loss. The designation of an AOC encourages planning agencies to pay attention to the sources of contamination and to begin to develop plans to identify and remediate problems.

Because of contamination, and the accompanying impairments, the state Department of Health and Canadian counterparts have long-standing fish consumption advisories that affect the kind and number of fish that individuals can eat from the Niagara and Buffalo rivers.

Basically, these advisories state that eating fish from these water bodies can be hazardous to your health. Especially if you are young, elderly, pregnant or have existing health problems. The birds in the corridor, like many of the people who fish there, aren't aware of these fish advisories.

Another important but little recognized tool comes from the city of Buffalo itself. In 1998, the Common Council passed a resolution recognizing the area. It states in part that the designation means "that the ecology of the Niagara River Corridor must be carefully integrated into the city's plans, laws, projects and processes." This is a significant law, and a critical tool for planners and developers.

It is clear that inappropriate industrial, commercial and urban development in the corridor, especially along the shorelines, such as development without a formal commitment to understanding and restoring habitat, will have natural and human consequences that will last for generations.

This affects continued efforts at the Lakeside Commerce Park adjacent to the Union Ship Canal, the Bethlehem Steel site, the NFTA/Buffalo Lakefront LLC Outer Harbor Development projects, and virtually all development planning in and adjacent to the Niagara River Corridor.

The Erie Canal Development Commission, the Niagara Greenway Commission and Higgins have a unique opportunity to act as stewards and help point the way to a future that not only protects and restores nature resources and promotes sustainable economic development but also promotes planning for a future that works.

There are remarkable efforts throughout the corridor that address both habitat loss and contamination remediation and recognize the boost to biodiversity that restoring and protecting habitat represent.

Pragmatic solutions

Remedial action plans and a broadening awareness of contamination and habitat loss issues in planning organizations, governments and in the media on both sides of the Niagara River have brought attention to pragmatic solutions.

Positive remediation examples include the restoration of Buckhorn Marsh on Grand Island, the creation of Woodlawn Beach State Park on Lake Erie, the remediation of the Cherry Farm on the Niagara's shore in Tonawanda and efforts by Erie County to create habitat in new parks and trails along the Buffalo River. In Niagara Falls, at Niagara Reservation State Park and along the gorge in the lower river, much attention has been paid to restoration efforts.

Very importantly, the recent creation of the Times Beach Nature Preserve adjacent to the Coast Guard Station in downtown Buffalo protects dramatically important habitat that is within view of Buffalo's City Hall. Some 240 species of birds have been recorded here, including all of the globally significant species identified by the area designation. The area played a great role in helping to focus attention on restoration issues in these projects.

Still, in Buffalo and south along the waterfront, habitat loss is still a critical threat. Proposed developments along Buffalo's outer harbor, the gateway to the habitat, are hardly focused on restoration.

The shoreline corridor south of Times Beach, which is threatened by industrialization at the Lakeshore Commerce Park, where a new PVC factory has grown, and the Buffalo Lakefront LLC outer harbor high-density development plans are shameful examples of poor planning and a lack of understanding of the ecological integrity of our globally important resources.

Surely with a new emphasis on conservation and hunting and fishing, as exemplified by the Bass Pro deal, we can find a way to promote economic development that has a focus on ecological integrity.

Higgins, the Greenway Commission and the coalition that has formed around the Niagara Greenway campaign must find ways to promote habitat restoration and link this with economic development. They must work closely with the Erie Canal Harbor Development Commission, the NFTA and the various government agencies that are investing public money for waterfront development.

Economic impact

This brings us back to the birds. One can go bird watching year round and enjoy rewarding and exciting experiences at Dunkirk Harbor on the American side of Lake Erie, Long Point on the Canadian side, all along the river to Fort Niagara and Niagara-on-the-Lake and all points between and beyond.

This is an incredible and rare natural resource that we have in our own back yard. Bird watching can be fun and educational. And recreational activities such as bird watching and ecotourism are rapidly growing economic engines. Perhaps we should invest public monies toward the support of the ecosystems that characterize the NRIBA.

Perhaps, for instance, along the South Buffalo/Lackawanna shoreline, again, the gateway to the Niagara River globally significant important bird area, Higgins and the Greenway Commission could entertain the concept of creating an Outer Harbor National Shoreline Recreation Area.

Development tools beyond the whole Bass Pro hunting-fishing-camping concept could include habitat restoration as opposed to commercial and industrial development. Why reindustrialize when we can go directly to the original reason that people came to live here - the natural waters and wildlife and the rich habitats that support these things?

This would serve to support a recreational/tourism economy, including sport fishing, hiking, bird watching, camping, sailing and boating. I see lots of jobs in this scenario. I see a cleaner environment, a healthier planet and a quality of life that would become a magnet for investment.

Throw in history, architecture and a local economy based on natural heritage (including Niagara Falls and the gorge) and our region could become an economic tourism engine that would drive our economy for years. Talk about signature projects.

Jay Burney is a Buffalo writer who focuses on outdoor and travel topics.


Source: http://www.buffalonews.com/...

DEC 18 2005
http://www.windaction.org/posts/742-birdland-on-the-niagara
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