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West Seneca Oxbow

Conserving an Oxbow Wetland; Restoring the Buffalo River

Buffalo River tributaries and their associated floodplains and wetlands in the Town of West Seneca are unique in Erie County because of their relative connectivity and the diversity of habitats and native species they support. Protection and restoration of these creek corridors are key to conserving an irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage. In addition to providing important contiguous habitat for fish and wildlife, these undeveloped floodplains and wetlands play an increasingly critical role in absorbing and storing stormwater, filtering out nutrients and pollutants, moderating stream temperatures, and generally improving stream water quality.

West Seneca’s oxbow wetland is approximately two miles upstream from the industrialized Buffalo River Area of Concern. As one of only three major wetlands in the lower Buffalo River watershed, it is considered a source area for future habitat and species restoration in the AOC.  Planning studies over the past 40 years have recommended that this place should be protected.

In 2008 a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation enabled Waterkeeper to embark on a two-year program to protect and restore the oxbow wetland and adjacent habitat in the context of Buffalo River Watershed conservation and AOC restoration. We helped facilitate the transfer of the central 14-acre parcel from the Estate of Robert A. Jacobs to the Town of West Seneca, with a conservation easement protecting it in perpetuity as a nature preserve.

Waterkeeper partnered with the West Seneca Environmental Commission, the SUNY Buffalo ERIE (Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange) graduate program, Ecology and Environment, and regional habitat experts to develop a habitat restoration and management plan for the oxbow. Six ERIE students and their program director donated over 1000 hours in field work and analysis of flora, fauna, soils and groundwater. They helped develop a restoration framework based on adaptive management to control invasive plant species and reintroduce native plants to the site in the context of historical and surrounding reference communities. They made several public presentations, including one to a neighboring high school demonstrating the oxbow’s potential contribution to the science curriculum. The West Seneca Environmental Commission arranged informational meetings with Town officials and residents and will be responsible for monitoring and management of the oxbow restoration plan over the long term.

Removal of invasive plant species such as Japanese knotweed and Phragmites began in spring of 2010, using a variety of test methods including digging, repeated cutting, and over-planting with  selected aggressive native species with high wildlife value. Over the year, approximately 7,000 square feet of invasive species were removed and over 100 native trees and shrubs were planted.

With the help of our partners, Waterkeeper prepared a “Watershed Owners Manual” and a “Know Your Backyard” booklet based on field work and on analysis of the Town’s existing land use regulations and policies. Waterkeeper, the West Seneca Environmental Commission and the Western New York Land Conservancy have distributed these publications to West Seneca residents, Town officials and adjacent town governments in the Buffalo River Watershed as part of an education packet promoting watershed stewardship and the values of conserving and restoring naturally-buffered stream corridors.

Note: West Seneca is highlighted.

Note: West Seneca is highlighted.

Arrow indicates the approximately 30-acre oxbow area, including floodplain forest, meadow, and the newly DEC-designated 14-acre oxbow wetland.

Arrow indicates the approximately 30-acre oxbow area, including floodplain forest, meadow, and the newly DEC-designated 14-acre oxbow wetland.

For an album of photos from the site, please click here.

To view a booklet about the natural and cultural heritage of West Seneca and the Oxbow site, click here.

For news articles about the site, click on:

UB News Room

UB Spectrum

West Seneca Bee