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Sowing The Seeds For 2022 Conservation Action

Abundant watershed forests are essential for healthy streams and lakes! The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy’s Goose Creek Valley Greenway Preserve is pictured. Photo by John Jablonski III

Happy holidays to you! As I write this, nature is in that transition time when flowers and trees go to sleep for the winter, with leaves, seeds and nuts falling to the ground, and the latter waiting to emerge in the spring. CWC, like nature, is finishing one season of activity and now planting the seeds for our conservation actions for the new year.

CWC’s mission is to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. We engage landowners, businesses, organizational partners and local governments to take pro-active and preventive actions to help deliver this mission county-wide. The most important actions we can take as a community to fight the excessive plant growth and algae growth in our lakes and the excessive stormwater runoff, soil erosion, nutrient pollution that drives them, are to conserve and restore our forests, stream corridors and wetlands. The less forest and the more urban land cover, the more nutrients and sediments fuel nuisance-level algae and aquatic plant growth.

Long standing, healthy forest communities are excellent water quality filters, with tree and native plant roots and fungal vegetative bodies forming complex symbiotic relationships that work to extract nutrients from precipitation, stormwater runoff and small streams. Cleared, impacted lands can’t cleanse or effectively absorb stormwater. Much of the watersheds of our county were cleared for family farms prior to 1900. The water-trapping irregular, pitted topography of old growth forests was smoothed and ditched or tiled for quick drainage for the cultivation of crops. This led to substantial increases in stormwater runoff, erosion and lake sedimentation and nutrient enrichment to our lakes. Over the 1900s, thousands of acres of lands reverted to second-growth forest as subsistence family farms went out of business, and economics caused fields that were too wet or too steep to be abandoned to succeed back to forest. During the 21st century, scattered development has fragmented more and more forestland, resulting in a growing net loss of forest acreage. Research has shown that converting small percentages of forest to residential, commercial, industrial or agricultural uses results in significant increases in runoff, erosion and nutrient delivery to receiving waters. To minimize the degradation of our lakes and streams from human uses, communities must maintain tributary watersheds in 70% or more forest cover.

No matter how many millions are spent on lake “weed” control in 2022 and beyond, if communities and agencies don’t commit the resources and take effective actions to reverse the loss of forests and wetlands in each lake watershed, we can expect more and more nutrients and sediments to fuel more harmful algae blooms and more dense aquatic plant growth, exacerbated by intense rain events and warmer waters as part of climate change.

CWC is presently undertaking an analysis of land cover in each municipality and sub-watershed in the Chautauqua Lake watershed as an indicator of the health of the lands that contribute waters to the lake. CWC is using this data as part of a multi-factor geographic information system (GIS) analysis of lands to score and rank landscape areas to prioritize them for forest and habitat conservation action and the investment of CWC and public conservation funding. CWC will reach out to the owners of lands identified with the highest values for habitat and water quality conservation to determine their interest in exploring conservation opportunities. CWC is seeking grant funding to refine this process and engage landowners, interest groups and local leaders to collaborate in the development of a Conservation Implementation Strategy for the entire county by mid-2023.

As we enter 2022, CWC is also undertaking a Fish Hawks & Steelhead Habitat Conservation Campaign and is at various stages working toward the permanent conservation of ten forest, stream and wetland sites: five in the Chautauqua Lake watershed, three in the Lake Erie watershed and two in the Cassadaga Creek watershed. CWC seeks to accelerate its conservation of forests, wetlands and stream corridors identified through our scientifically-based strategic planning processes to best protect the habitats, water quality and ecological health of Chautauqua Lake, its tributaries and waters and habitats across the county.

Donations and grants are also being sought for assisting homeowners, businesses and municipalities with streamside and lakeshore ecological restoration and LakeScapes projects led by CWC staff Twan Leenders and Carol Markham from Chautauqua Lake and the Chadakoin River in Jamestown to the Dunkirk Harbor and Silver Creek. Much conservation work has been seeded in 2021. We encourage you to visit our website or call CWC to learn how you can contribute to bring many of these important conservation projects to fruition in 2022.

On Sunday, Jan. 3, from 2 to 3:30 p.m., CWC will be holding an open house at our Dobbins Woods Preserve in Ashville. Come check out the recent improvements to the preserve and join us for a conversation about these activities and other CWC programs. (Masks will be required.)

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a not-for-profit organization with the mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, visit chautauquawatershed.org and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

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