Niagara River Riparian Restoration Program

Urban and suburban landowners play an important role in Niagara River riparian restoration and protection. These residents who live at the water’s edge along the Niagara and it’s tributaries have the opportunity to serve as stewards of the local environment, ecologically restoring their riparian lands and serving as models to others in the community. While many riparian landowners appreciate their access to water and are interested in restoring the environment, they may lack the technical assistance required to increase the ecological integrity of their property. To address this gap between willing landowners and the required resources for on-the-ground restoration, the Niagara River Riparian Restoration Program (NRRRP) coordinates with them to develop forest buffers or other habitat features such as rain gardens, small-scale soft shoreline stabilization, meadows, and wetlands on their property. With an agreement between the property owner and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, we provide the technical knowledge and on-the-ground installation of the project.

The NRRRP is generously supported by the Niagara River Greenway Commission with funds from the New York Power Authority.

This Project Has Now Been Completed

Our three-year grant has ended and we have written a final report. To read the report itself, click here:  The Niagara River Riparian Restoration Program Final Report. For the complete appendices–a separate document–click here (this is a large document and takes some time to download).

BENEFITS OF A BUFFER

A riparian forest buffer is an area of forested trees usually accompanied by shrubs or grasses that border along the edge of a river, stream, or lake that is managed to maintain the integrity of the waterway. There are many benefits to having a buffer zone:

  • Flood management – The faster rainwater advances into a waterway, the higher flood levels rise and the more catastrophic floods become. Trees help to slow the advance of rainwater by slow percolation through forest litter, direct evaporation off leaf surfaces, and through root absorption. Since the advance of water into systems such as Combined Sewer Overflows is now slower, they will not get inundated and release contaminated sewer water into rivers and streams.
  • Increased groundwater recharge – Plants increase the recharge of groundwater into aquifers through slow percolation. The floors of forest buffers are more penetrable for water due to there being greater surface area around soil compounds and forest litter. The results are conditions that allow for water to seep more readily into the ground.
  • Lower temperatures -Trees provide greater canopy cover that can cool stream temperatures.  This increases water’s ability to hold oxygen and combat eutrophication, increasing the survival rate of many aquatic organisms. Trees and other vegetation can mitigate the urban heat island effect because they shade buildings, intercept solar radiation, and cool the air through evapotranspiration.  By cooling, trees reduce evaporative emissions from vehicles and other fuel storage, and by cooling homes and offices trees reduce power generation emissions.  Forests also remove and store vast amounts of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas contributor.
  • Absorption of air pollution and pesticides – Buffer vegetation helps absorb harmful air pollutants and pesticides.  Trees also help filter toxins and excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from surface waters. Trees reduce gaseous air pollution.  Trees planted next to parking situations reduce evaporative emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from parked cars. Because VOC emissions are temperature-dependent and trees generally lower air temperatures, increased tree cover can lower overall VOC emissions and, consequently, ozone levels in urban areas.  In urban areas with 100% tree cover (i.e., contiguous forest stands), short-term improvements in air quality (one hour) from pollution removal by trees were as high as 15% for ozone, 14% for sulfur dioxide, 13% for particulate matter, 8% for nitrogen dioxide, and 0.05% for carbon-monoxide. Environmental Protection Agency (Content source); Cutler J. Cleveland (Topic Editor). 2007. “Environmental effects of urban trees and vegetation.” In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth August 29, 2006; Last revised April 25, 2007; Retrieved February 11, 2010]. <http://www.eoearth.org/article/Environmental_effects_of_urban_trees_and_vegetation>
  • Lower stream velocities – Vegetation that surrounds waterways can lead to lower stream velocities, which help provides more contact time for nutrient and toxin absorption.
  • Management of invasive species – Forest buffers can lead to invasive species management and eradication.  The greater the forest canopy the more shade is produced.  Because most invasive plant species require full sunlight, they are often eradicated locally in shaded conditions.
  • Improved Water Quality – Improved water quality as loadings from the nutrient, sediment, bacteria, and other pollutants are reduced before entering the stream. Toxins and other chemicals from stormwater runoff are also filtered out, improving the water quality and health of our waterways.
  • Improved water quality lead to enhanced fish habitats – Forest buffers enhance fish habitat as water quality improves.  Leaf litter positively affects the quality and diversity of macro-invertebrates, which are an important food source for fish.
  • Greater wildlife diversity – Compared to a bare soil bank in a meadow stream, a bank with fine tree roots commonly supports 1,000 times more organisms in the same amount of space. {Landowner guide to buffer success- pg. 20} This contributes to greater wildlife diversity through complex food webs and the creation of new niches.
  • Stabilize stream banks – Trees stabilize stream banks and reduce erosion by holding soil into place with their complex root systems.  This prevents stream banks from washing away. Roots also take up excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphates and prevent them entering the stream from the surrounding lands. Excessive amounts of these two nutrients can cause algal blooms which cause depleted oxygen levels and reduced light penetration.
  • Greater habitat for birds – Forest buffers, when properly installed, lead to varying layers of vegetation. This results in greater habitat for many forms of wildlife, especially birds. In an Integrated Pest Management system insectivorous birds are used in an ecologically sustainable way to manage pests. Native plants provide food and cover for wildlife. Nesting, breeding, and roosting sites are common in riparian areas. Bald Eagles, Osprey, and other important migrating birds depend on forested areas along the river for nesting habitat and are important corridors for many species.
  • Recreation – Forest Buffers help provide for quality recreation, educational opportunities, and income potential for local communities.
  • Community Spirit – Individuals and community groups who work together to plant trees and restore riparian forest buffers develop important conservation values and foster community spirit. A picturesque riparian nature scene can help with stress reduction, and can help lead to a well balanced sense of being.

DIRECT BENEFITS TO LANDOWNERS

In addition to making a positive contribution to the local community, there are many direct benefits to landowners for having Riparian Forest Buffer systems on their property:

  • Flood Management, especially in wet areas. The faster rainwater advances into a waterway, the higher flood levels rise and the more catastrophic floods become. Trees help to slow the advance of rainwater by slow percolation through forest litter, direct evaporation off leaf surfaces, and through root absorption.
  • Trees increase property values, especially in riparian buffers.  The United States Forest Service says trees can increase property values as much as 10 percent. So if you have a $200,000 house on a lot with three mature trees, your property assessment might owe as much as $20,000 of its value to your trees.  Ohio.gov Department of Natural Resources. “An Easy Way to Increase Your Property Value: Plant Trees.” Web. February 11, 2010.  <http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Home/urban/features/propertyvalue/tabi/5459/Default.aspx>
  • Native vegetation increases the abundance of wildlife (especially birds).  In an Integrated Pest Management system insectivorous birds are used in an ecologically sustainable way to manage pests, especially insects.
  • Forest buffers help to preserve property.  During catastrophic flood events large portions of property can be permanently lost without the help of trees acting to anchor the earth in place with well established root systems.
  • A picturesque riparian nature scene can help with stress reduction, and give a well balanced sense of being.
  • Vegetation, especially forest buffers, can help reduce noise pollution in urban areas.
  • A forest canopy can help control invasive species populations since many invasive plant species require direct sunlight.  In the presence of shade, many invasive species are eradicated.
  • Trees reduce gaseous air pollution.  Trees planted in parking situations reduce evaporative emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from parked cars. Because VOC emissions are temperature-dependent and trees generally lower air temperatures, increased tree cover can lower overall VOC emissions and, consequently, ozone levels in urban areas.  In urban areas with 100% tree cover (i.e., contiguous forest stands), short-term improvements in air quality (one hour) from pollution removal by trees were as high as 15% for ozone, 14% for sulfur dioxide, 13% for particulate matter, 8% for nitrogen dioxide, and 0.05% for carbon-monoxide. Environmental Protection Agency (Content source); Cutler J. Cleveland (Topic Editor). 2007. “Environmental effects of urban trees and vegetation.” In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth August 29, 2006; Last revised April 25, 2007; Retrieved February 11, 2010]. <http://www.eoearth.org/article/Environmental_effects_of_urban_trees_and_vegetation>
  • Urban areas are often significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas. Trees can help reduce the temperature by intercepting solar radiation and providing shade. Homeowners can further enjoy the outdoors on hot summer days and electrical demand is lowered.
  • Trees remove and store vast amounts of carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) in their tissues.  Trees help provide balance to global climate systems, and are a crucial part in maintaining a stable environment and minimizing natural disasters.
  • Individuals and community groups who work together to plant trees and restore riparian forest buffers develop important conservation values and foster a community spirit.
  • Areas where there are established forest buffers no longer need to be mowed.

BENEFITS IN NIAGARA

According to the Buffalo and Niagara Rivers Habitat Assessment and Conservation Framework only 30% of the Niagara River Watershed remains forested and 3% is grass and shrub-land. Development and mowing near the shoreline is a significant cause to the loss of forested buffers. If we can bring together community in creating buffer we can significantly increase wildlife and fish habitat, improve water quality, and decrease toxins in our waters.

GUIDES

Native and Naturalized Plant Guide for Buffalo Niagara

This guide will assist homeowners with their landscaping and serve as an introduction to the native plants of the Buffalo Niagara region. To view a copy click here.

Caring for Your Waterfront Property book

Do you own waterfront property? This book is for you. Many riparian landowners appreciate their access to water and embrace their role as environmental stewards. However, they may be uncertain about the best ways to protect or restore the ecological integrity of their property. Riverkeeper’s NRRRP helps urban and suburban landowners find answers and take action to develop landscape features such as wooded buffers, rain gardens, meadows, wetlands, and small-scale, soft shoreline stabilization projects. To view a copy click here.

WORKSHOPS

As part of the NRRRP, Riverkeeper provided waterfront landowners with technical assistance to develop landscape features that will improve the riparian health of their property. We hosted 10 workshops in March 2012 in Niagara Greenway municipalities to help landowners understand their role in keeping our waters clean.

 Riverkeeper staff has spent many hours researching this to find information that will best fit our region. The information is more specific than anything you can find on the web including photos and diagrams of some of our restoration projects. It was also a chance to network with other waterfront property owners in the area.  Along with all the material presented, there was handouts full of useful, regionally specific information for landowners to use at home. Each workshop ran about 90 minutes. For a powerpoint of the presentation, click here. For an album of photos from the workshop, click here.

 NRRP Planting Schedule

Property Planting Date No. Volunteers Needed Photos
Seneca Bluffs, Buffalo September 2009
Taylor Devices, N. Tona. August 2010 actual UW Day of Caring  Here
Wallace, Grand Island 4/21/11 actual 10  Here
Harbison, Grand Island 5/3/11 actual 22 UB students, 30 total  Here
Duling, Youngstown 5/4/11 actual Contractor
Forest Lawn Cemetery 5/14/11 actual9/17/11 groundcover 15 River Academy, 8 FL, ~30 total  Here
Ellicott Creek Park 5/27/11 actual, 4/26/12 live stakes, 6/9/12 actual 22 Nixon Peabody, 24 Harkness, about 50 total; 10 SJCI on 6/9/12  Here
Hoke, Niagara Falls 6/18/11 actual 5 United Health Care, 8 maximum  Here
Eastern Park Canoe Launch 7/16/11 actual, 4/26/12 actual, 5/25/12 actual UW Family day of caring, 30; Nixon Peabody on 5/25/12  Here
 Longin, Wheatfield 9/3/11 actual Holly H & UHC  Here
Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association Knotweed cutbacks 6/16 & 8/3 & 8/4, spraying Sept. 28 & planting October 24th. 10-15 rowers, Youth Works, Conservation Corps.  Here
China Light YC 9/13/11 actual Club members
RCR Yachts 9/14/11 actual veterans  Here
McKinley H. S. October 2011 actual Students and Teachers
Noonan, Youngstown October 2011 actual Contractor
Coykendall, Youngstown October 2011 actual Contractor
Winkler, Wheatfield 10/4/11 actual 8 Restorecorps  Here
Cayuga Creek, NF 10/8/11 actual, 5/5/12 actual River Academy  Here
Gillies, NF 5/8/12 actual RestoreCorps
Praxair, Tonawanda 5/18/12 actual Employees, RestoreCorps
Fontana Boathouse 6/16/12 actual Citibank & ResoreCorps

 

Press: The second project of the Habitat Restoration Program was finished on 08/18/2010 on Tonawanda Island in North Tonawanda.  Please view the following links for media and news relations. http://buffalo.ynn.com/content/top_stories/514607/buffalo-niagara-riverkeeper-receives-grant-to-restore-waterfront/ or http://www.buffalonews.com/city/article105180.ece

Pictures of the progression of the project can be found at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bnriverkeeper/sets/72157624673685617/

Pictures of the planting can be found at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bnriverkeeper/sets/72157626387509068/

Another Habitat Restoration was completed in Youngstown at the beginning of May 2011, check it out:

http://belowthefalls.com/home/story/youngstown-vegetation-project-could-become-model-along-river-bank

For a radio interview with Zeb Strickland explaining the program, VP_WFBF_01-23-10.mp3.

 

How to GET INVOLVED!

If you have water frontage and want to help improve habitat and water quality, please contact Larry Brooks, Watershed Restoration Project Manager lbrooks@bnriverkeeper.org or call (716) 852-7483 ext.17.

VOLUNTEER! Join RestoreCorps to participate in future restoration projects. Learn about native plants vs. invasive plants, restoration principles, and water quality issues by working outdoors in your local watershed! For more information, please contact Matt Candeias, Watershed Restoration Volunteer Coordinator at  mcandeias@bnriverkeeper.org or call (716) 852-7483 ext. 31. To download the application form, please click here. Applications can be submitted electronically.

Thanks to our Partners and Volunteers! We would like to thank the following organizations and volunteers for support in these efforts:

Erie County Soil and Water Conservation District

Niagara County Soil and Water Conservation District

Erie County DEP

United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Erie Community College

Buffalo Museum of Science

Buffalo Olmstead Parks Conservancy

Ecology and Environment Inc.

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