Wetlands

 

(This 782nd Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on March 26, 2006.)

 

I have a love-hate relationship with wetlands.

 

The Clean Water Act defines wetlands as "those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support...a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions.

 

Like many friends who participate in nature-related activities, I spend much time in them. Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and the Tonawanda and Oak Orchard State Wildlife Management Areas, Great Baehre Swamp, Buckhorn Island, Tifft Nature Preserve and Times Beach, Natureview Park, Tillman Road Swamp, Zoar Valley; you name the regional wetland and I have probably been there recently.

 

Why? Because those areas are where wildlife abounds. They are where I find the most wild mammals and birds; wildflowers, trees, mushrooms and ferns; butterflies, moths, beetles and other insects; frogs, salamanders and snakes. Dry forests have their own, often different wildlife but not nearly so many species because water is a life essential.

 

Unfortunately, I also live in a wetland. The Army Corps of Engineers calls it a flood plain. And indeed our home was once flooded. That is not an experience I would wish on anyone. Now my town has added pumps and an overflow-diversion area has been dug along our local creek, but that only reduces the threat. As the Corps official told us, "When you live on a flood plain, sooner or later you get flooded."

 

Caveat emptor. When we purchased our home, why didn't we check for flooding? We would have found that hundreds, perhaps thousands of homes in this area are built in areas that earlier settlers knew as swamps. Like other buyers we faced so many other considerations that we never thought we would be defenseless against an extended episode of rain and melting snow. In much of northern Erie and Niagara Counties it is difficult to avoid wetland environments. The area is very flat and the clay soils only slowly absorb water.

 

We didn't realize that we were gambling and that the house, Mother Nature in this case, always wins in the end.

 

What made me reconsider my attitude toward wetlands were two things: a newly issued series of U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service wetland maps and the notice of an upcoming meeting about wetlands.

 

Detailed maps comparing the new federally defined wetlands with the earlier state definitions are now available, including map quadrangles for much of western New York, from the website wetlands.fws.gov. That assumes, however, that you can master the complicated process necessary for downloading.

 

These new maps avoid indicating as wetlands most areas already developed, but they still show clearly how much still undeveloped wetlands have not already been designated by New York State. The older state definitions represent the less sophisticated technology then available. The problem now will be to bring the state into conformity with these federal maps in order to avoid further development that will punish future home buyers.

 

Important then will be the free April 1 Wetland Conference hosted by the Sierra Club, the Niagara Frontier Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club and the University at Buffalo Greens.

 

A morning session will run from 9:00-12:00 in 120 Clemens Hall on the University at Buffalo Amherst Campus. There will be free parking in the university's Baird Hall lot near the Coventry Entrance off Millersport Highway.

 

That morning New York State Entomologist Wayne Gall will speak on "Quaking Mats, Muck, Mire, Bogs and Fens: Bog Walking in Western New York"; Bill Hudson, director of the Audubon Society's Beaver Meadow Sanctuary will explain "Why Wetlands Matter"; Liz Kaszubski, state Wetland Chair for the Sierra Club will present "Comparison Mapping of State and New Federal Wetlands: How to Save Wetlands in Your Community"; and a Corps of Engineers representative will speak on "Wetland Regulations and the Public's Role in the Regulatory Process".

 

At 1:30 p.m. interested participants will reconvene at the Baird lot for a Great Baehre Swamp hike. Bring boots for wet conditions. The swamp is just ten minutes from the campus.

 

For further information about the morning meeting contact Lynn Kenney at 825-7329 or at woodthrush@hotmail.com, Art Klein at 693-1082 or at HappyK1@aol.com. For information about the afternoon hike contact Larry Beahan at 839-3112.-- Gerry Rising