Attacking Invasive Plants

 

This 1271st Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on August 2, 2015.

 

Recently a group of us were treated to guided tours of five local riparian (shoreline) sites where habitat restoration and native planting are being implemented by Riverkeeper and WNY PRISM staff members. It was an instructive but, in the final analysis, a disquieting experience. We saw excellent activities that are producing marked progress, but the overwhelming problems we face with invasive species more generally were brought into tight focus.

 

For those who don't identify these important ecological organizations: Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper has for 25 years now has advanced solutions to complex environmental problems related to the Niagara and Buffalo Rivers. The acronym PRISM represents Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management and the tour organizers are with the Western New York Regional Office.

 

The first site we visited was at RiverBend across South Park Avenue from the huge, partially completed SolarCity facility. From where we parked all we could see down toward the Buffalo River was an open field of four to five foot high alien green mugwort growing out of the hardpan left by the former Republic Steel and Donner Hanna Coke facilities.

 

But Josh Konovitz led us across those fields toward the river where we reached a line about twenty yards from the water at which everything changed. No longer were we surrounded by mugwort; now we were in a field of native wildflowers dominated at this time of year by dainty spikes of blue vervain. A few daisies added their yellow to the field and many other wildflowers like bee balm showed evidence of coming into bloom shortly.

 

This area, Josh told us, had been cleared and planted with this mix of wild flowers and we were seeing the result. And that outcome was indeed striking. The plants were just as high as the mugwort, but the entire atmosphere was entirely different. Here insects, many of then honey bees, buzzed around the flower blossoms, a few cabbage white butterflies hovered at the blossoms. I could hear song and savannah sparrows singing and barn swallows darted about.

 

Work was still in progress to halt the erosion that had been taking place. Trees had been carefully placed to add their root structure to enhance this activity. Such streamside plantings help to settle out pollutants before they can enter the river.

 

Our next stop was very different. It was the Oxbow Wetland on Clinton Street in West Seneca. Ba Zan Lin and Robbyn Drake led us along an open trail that soon took us past the swampy area of the old oxbow in Buffalo Creek to the creek itself. Years ago engineers had rechanneled the creek to cut off that bend as part of a flood control measure.

 

Here along the trail there were patches of invasives: more of that mugwort, for example. But much of the Japanese knotweed and phragmites, two of our worst invasive plants, had been removed and replaced with native plants. Over 120,000 square feet of these noxious plants have been replaced.

 

Our final visit was also within West Seneca. It was to the Seneca Bluffs, what Vicki Hass, point person for the Erie County Department of Environment and Plannng, called one of Erie County's pocket parks.

 

Here in this more open parkland with mowed lawns along the pathways Andrea Locke, head of WNY PRISM, showed us how very difficult it is to fight back Japanese knotweed. My own experience with this terrible weed that grows up through asphalt pavement confirms this. The previous owners of our house had a small patch in the backyard. It took us three years to get rid of it.

 

I didn't make it to two of the other sites on the itinerary: Tifft Nature Preserve and Times Beach, but I have already written about the work of Dave Spiering and others at those locations.

 

As we toured Seneca Bluffs, Jim Landau commented that he was becoming convinced that we are fighting a losing battle against invasives. It requires extreme measures to eliminate even small patches and those species are spreading faster than we can eradicate them. How true, but at least we have these intrepid young men and women including our other PRISM tour hosts, Mat Bilz, Lucy Nuessle, Patricia Schulenburg and Alexandra Wagner, fighting the good fight.-- Gerry Rising