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Watershed Notes: Our Chautauqua, Our Connection

Planting ecologically productive plants…plants with a purpose…will gradually glue the fragments of our ecosystems back together. Photo by Carol Markham

When you look outside your window on any given day, what do you see?

Do you see green grass, trees, plants, and flowers or do you see houses, concrete, pavement, and steel?

Here in Chautauqua County, we are fortunate to live in an area that has yet to see a huge and vast influx of people, housing developments, paved roads and driveways, and removal and complete disappearance of our untouched lands and forested areas. We have six beautiful lakes and border Lake Erie. There is no place in the county more than 25 miles from open water!

We are all truly living in a diamond in the rough…a hidden gem where the world slows down…a place where we can breathe fresh air and admire the open water, trees, shrubs, and flowers that surround it. Many of us have moved here from other locations to take advantage of the wildness and waters of Chautauqua County. But how can we make sure that all of this beauty remains?

Despite the rural nature of our county, our landscapes are still fragmented – carved up pieces of their formal self. And as more people move out of the cities and escape to the beauty and opportunity of our county, the more this natural beauty will become fragmented and disappear. All of our local insects, butterflies, and birds are already flying from these small pieces of land, desperately trying to find food and habitat to survive. These remnant pieces of land have become too small and too isolated to sustain the species that run the ecosystems that sustain us. Humans need insects, butterflies, and birds to live life as we know it. We are connected to nature…we are just one part of all the specialized relationships that exist here on earth. We must begin to understand this connection or else our life here on Earth is in jeopardy.

So how can we continue to keep our Chautauqua landscapes connected and allow the species that sustain us to survive and thrive? The easiest way to connect these fragmented land pieces is to connect our backyards. We can save our insects, our birds, and nature itself, but we will have to change the way we landscape to do it. Landscapes that contain mostly turf grass and non-native ornamental plants cannot sustain the plant and animal ecosystems we humans need to survive. We have taken their habitat to create our own, so why not at least help them by landscaping our properties with their food? We plant food to feed ourselves … why not also plant food for the insects that are crucial to our survival?

How do we do this? The simple answer is native plants! Plants that have evolved over time in nature that feed our local insects and birds. These “keystone” plants are critical in maintaining our ecosystems, and without them, our lives would be drastically different. Plant a native Oak tree, Blueberry bush or New England Aster. Just one addition into your existing landscape will begin to attract and create the necessary food and habitat needed to sustain our ecosystems. We have to start someplace, and how much easier can you get than in your own backyard! This small action from each and every one of us will deliver enormous benefits to our entire community. Planting ecologically productive plants … plants with a purpose … will gradually “glue” these fragments of our ecosystems back together. Your landscape will not only be beautiful, but it will also be productive and serve a purpose.

So I urge everyone to plant just one! Connect yourself and your yard to our county and community by planting at least one functional, purposeful, native keystone plant, and let’s make sure that the remnants and pieces of Chautauqua’s beautiful land always remains a viable and thriving place to live for insects and humans alike.

For a list of native keystone species and help with choosing the best one for your yard, contact the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and its Conservationist at 664-2166, ext. 1005 or carol@chautauquawatershed.org.

Happy planting!

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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