Removing Invasive Plants Has Restored Buffalo’s Times Beach, Enhancing Habitat for Birds and Pollinators

Project Summary: Invasive plants were removed from the Times Beach Nature Preserve in Buffalo, N.Y. and replaced with native plants to support migratory birds and pollinators.

 

Location: Buffalo, N.Y.

 

 

Workers remove invasive plants from Times Beach to support migratory birds and pollinators. Photo courtesy of Jay Burney.

Description: Located near Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, Times Beach lies at the confluence of the Niagara River, the Buffalo River, and Lake Erie. This location makes Times Beach a focal point for migrating birds and pollinators seeking food, shelter, and breeding grounds. The site contains a wide range of habitat types, allowing many different species to stop there along their journey. There is a pond that hosts waterfowl and herons, and seasonal mudflats attract migratory shorebirds. There are also upland meadows and forests that provides additional resources and canopy habitat. Yet despite its importance, this vital ecosystem has been significantly altered by decades of human activity. As its surrounding area industrialized, Times Beach was subject to heavy pollution. Due to its convenient location near both the Buffalo River and Buffalo Harbor, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began dumping dredged materials at Times Beach in the mid-1960s. This added tons of pollutants, such as PCBs and heavy metals, to the ecosystem. Dumping foreign materials also facilitated the spread of invasive plants throughout Times Beach, including phragmites, Japanese knotweed, mugwort, and buckthorn. These invasives displaced the native plants that birds and wildlife rely on for food and habitat, causing a significant decline in species diversity throughout Times Beach.

 

Naturalizing this ecosystem has encouraged the return of waterfowl and other migratory bird species. Photo courtesy of Jay Burney.

In the 1970s, a group of concerned citizens began a successful campaign to end dumping at Times Beach, which eventually resulted in the creation of the Times Beach Nature Preserve in 2006. Since then efforts have been underway to clean up Times Beach. Thanks to a grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a coalition of local governments, citizens groups, and the Army Corps of Engineers has partnered to remove invasive plants from Times Beach and restore its natural ecology. This began with a seed bank analysis to identify the plants that had comprised the displaced native community. Workers then went in to remove invasive plants, using both mechanical removal and chemical herbicide application. The varying removal techniques were employed in different parts of the site to compare their efficacies. Workers then planted the native plants identified in the seed bank to re-vegetate and naturalize the site. Fencing was used to protect the newly planted natives from grazing deer.

 

This project began in 2012, and the final native plantings were conducted in the fall of 2016. The project partners are currently developing a strategy for site management that will prevent re-colonization by invasives and maintain the gains they’ve made. They are also beginning a new project that will emphasize planting fall flowering plants, such as goldenrods and asthers, to support the migrating populations of monarch butterflies that rest in Times Beach during the fall.

 

Approximate cost of project: About $3.5 million, mostly provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

 

Resource challenges addressed: Invasive species, habitat loss, contaminated sediment.

 

Key partners (public and private): The City of Buffalo, the County of Erie, Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ecology and Environment Inc., and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

 

Types of jobs created: Contractors, professors, equipment operators, public employees, and general labor.

 

Results and accomplishments: At this point, over 90 percent of the invasive plants from Times Beach have been removed. Naturalizing this ecosystem has encouraged the return of warblers, herons, waterfowl, and other migratory bird species. This has also enhanced recreational opportunities for birdwatchers and hikers. Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve is working with local schools to teach students about the importance of Times Beach and explain how it is being naturalized. The comparisons between different removal techniques from this project are being used to guide other invasive plant removal efforts throughout the Great Lakes, including projects in Ashtabula, Ohio. and Green Bay, Wis.

 

Website: http://www.lrb.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/District-Projects/Times-Beach/ 

 

Originally published on May 15, 2017

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