CWC’s Ball Creek Ecological Restoration Project To Enter Second Phase

For 28 years, the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has been working to address the root causes of water quality degradation, with a focus on land conservation. We strive to protect properties critical for collecting, storing, and delivering clean water. This in turn protects habitat for plants and wildlife as well as the scenic character that makes Chautauqua County such a beautiful place in which to live and visit. A land conservation project doesn’t end once we acquire the title, however, and CWC has been increasingly active in habitat enhancement and ecological restoration projects on our properties.

One such project has been in the works for nearly two years. In coordination with Chautauqua County and the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance, CWC worked to secure funding from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund’s Water Quality Improvement Program to aid in restoring a healthy, functioning ecosystem at our Ball Creek Nature Park in North Harmony. The first leg of the project involved stabilizing the eroding stream bank. The soil washing away from the failing banks of Ball Creek was directly entering Chautauqua Lake. This type of erosion not only clouds the water, stresses fish, and suffocates fish eggs, but also adds silt to the Lake’s bottom and provides nutrients that lead to excessive plant and algae growths. More than 250 feet of Ball Creek was rebuilt and stabilized with rock riprap in November 2017, with about 700 tons of stone set in place. To help ensure long-term viability of the project, 500 dogwood and willow stakes of multiple species were planted as well. This added root mass in between the rocks to further prevent erosion. All of this was the first step in rehabilitating the property.

As with many other abandoned fields, our Ball Creek Nature Park has become choked with invasive plant species and consists almost entirely of non-native and aggressive mugwort, common reed, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, and Japanese knotweed – all of which have strong negative impacts on the local ecosystem including loss of biodiversity, reduced and insufficient food resources for birds and other wildlife, and increased erosion. After more than a year of research and deliberation on how to address this issue, we found that our only viable solution would be to use herbicides.

Because any herbicide application raises legitimate concerns, CWC worked strenuously to avoid using them. Alongside the Alliance, CWC has worked with the WNY Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, Chautauqua County Soil and Water Conservation District, and plant ecologists from SUNY Fredonia to investigate another way to restore the site. We looked at prescribed burns, tilling and mowing/cutting, using the allelopathic abilities of black walnut, and even an experimental approach using convection cells to heat the soil and destroy the roots of the invasive plants. While these are all appropriate approaches to invasive plant species management in certain situations, they will not work at this site – mostly due to the extent and scope of the non-native plant infestation. These methods will be utilized going forward, but without jump-starting the process and knocking back the invasive species with herbicides, these other efforts won’t be effective.

Herbicide applications at the preserve are scheduled for early summer of this year, with follow-up spot treatments in August. In 2019, native plants will be seeded in, with the long-term goal of establishing a tall grass/wildflower meadow over the next several years. In April and May of 2019, nine species of native grass and wildflower will be seeded into the site. If necessary, herbicide will be used in August 2019 to spot treat any species that survived the initial treatment.

A project like this can take years to fully transition from an exotic species-infested habitat to a functioning tall grass/wildflower meadow. The end result will be a net gain from an ecological perspective, even with the impacts that herbicide use will cause. When the native species are established, there will once more be food for pollinating insects, larval caterpillars, birds, bats, and other wildlife – all wrapped up into a publicly accessible nature preserve for all to enjoy. For any questions or comments, please contact CWC’s Conservation Lands Manager at Info@chautauquawatershed.org.

Funding for this project was provided in part by the Environmental Protection Fund as administered by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Chautauqua County, through a share of its Occupancy Tax Program and reallocated Chautauqua Lake Management Commission capital funds, provided the local match funds for this project.

The CWC is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.

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