Heal Your Habitat for Healthy Waters

Beautiful Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, such as this one on a Turk’s Cap Lily, require native plants to feed and reproduce. Photo by Jeff Tome

Your home is probably the largest investment you will ever make, so you invest your time and money in its upkeep by making repairs, landscaping and remodeling. The quality of the Chautauqua watershed is also related to the value of your home. A clear blue lake, beautiful streams, and healthy flora and fauna are all part of the attraction of this region. But, like your house, the watershed needs maintenance, especially as centuries of overuse and abuse have deteriorated the natural balance and complex systems which protected our waters. The runoff of silt, use of fertilizers and pesticides, increased erosion and loss of natural vegetation (which acted as a filtration system) has reduced our water quality. Summer is here, temperatures are climbing, and aquatic plants and algae are thriving in Chautauqua Lake. While there are no quick fixes for controlling excessive lake plant and algae growth, you can become involved in a long-term action plan to help heal our watershed. Naturalizing parts of your yard with native plants will help support birds that control mosquitoes and other insect pests as well as help absorb and filter pollutants from rainwater and runoff from driveways and rooftops.

Keeping an ecosystem in balance requires an intricate system of natural habitat and organisms. Insects pollinate plants and act as a food source for birds, fish and small mammals. Plants also act as a food source, providing roots, shoots, berries and buds to a wide variety of animals. Birds spread seeds and lower excess insect populations. Plants and trees increase soil stability and fertility, and filter rainwater into aquifers and waterways, which increases water quality. So watershed stewardship starts from the ground up, planning ways to help your land to support a variety of plants and animals to create a healthy landscape.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has created Yard Map, a fun and easy way to plan your property for bird habitat, plantings and landscaped beauty while participating in “citizen science” through the sharing of your information through their interactive website, www.yardmap.org. Just find your home on Google map, add your boundaries, and click on items such as plantings, bird feeders, rain barrels and compost piles to show existing or proposed conditions on your land. The website has a simple-to-follow video to help you get started. There are four easy steps to providing valuable information on your land: outlining a site, adding ecological details, drawing habitat and placing objects. You can share your plan with hundreds of thousands of other Americans and browse to see what others have done in your area and even get help identifying species of trees and plants or in designing a better habitat. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy joined with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute to promote this simplified method of tracking habitat and watershed management in our area.

Over one million acres of the United States are covered with non-native lawns, creating imbalance and destroying natural habitat. Yard Map is one way to encourage increased management for ecosystem protection. The information will allow us to share projects such as rain gardens or natural buffers, which many of you have already installed to protect our waters. Free landscaping consultations are available to those interested in restoring habitat and landscaping for improved water quality by contacting the CWC at info@chautauquawatershed.org or calling 664-2166.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. It is partnering with the Chautauqua Bird, Tree and Garden Club to host a series of lake walks Monday evenings through Aug. 20 starting at 6:30 p.m. at Heinz Beach at Chautauqua Institution. CWC will also be hosting an educational tour and invasive species removal workday at the Chautauqua Creek Oxbow Preserve on Lyons Road west of Mayville on Tuesday, July 10 at 10 a.m. For more information, visit chautauquawatershed.org. or call 664-2166.