The Western New York Land Conservancy announced recently it has been awarded $316,673 from the Niagara Greenway Commission's Ecological Standing Committee to perform a comprehensive inventory of the ecological, geological, scenic and cultural resources of the Niagara County portion of the Niagara Escarpment.
The study will identify areas of natural heritage significance; pinpoint opportunities to preserve, restore, and enhance these resources; and provide a set of conservation and restoration priorities and recommendations. The Land Conservancy will lead this cooperative venture with guidance from community stakeholders and technical and professional support from Ecology & Environment.
Bill Hudson, ecologist with Ecology & Environment, commented, "The Land Conservancy has shown great leadership in recognizing the escarpment's importance to our region and leading a group of stakeholders in creating a vision for its future. Ecology & Environment is thrilled to be working with the Land Conservancy on this important project located right in the community where most of us live. The Niagara Greenway Commission and the Greenway Ecological Standing committee should be congratulated for their support of the project. When they are carefully managed and celebrated, natural features like the escarpment make Western New York a better place to live and work, and that's good for everyone."
The Niagara Escarpment is a large geologic feature formed at the edge of an ancient sea. It spans over 750 miles passing through Wisconsin, Ontario and New York state. In 2007, the Great Lakes Commission identified the Niagara County portion of the Niagara Escarpment as one of the region's top five most important habitats for protection and restoration efforts.
It is also specifically identified as a priority in the 2006 "New York State Open Space Conservation Plan" because of the "diversity of significant habitats along the length of the Niagara Escarpment in Niagara County." According to Land Conservancy Board President Kathy Lasher, "The Land Conservancy's long term vision is to ensure that the Niagara Escarpment becomes a visible, preserved, and more accessible iconic community showpiece."
The escarpment contains some of the best exposures of 500-million-year-old fossils found anywhere in the world as well as threatened, rare and endangered plants and unique ecological communities. Erosion along the escarpment is responsible for the gorge at Niagara Falls. It contributes to the micro-climate and soil conditions that make possible Niagara County's soft fruit belt and it played an important role in the Underground Railroad. The Land Conservancy will reach out to the organizations, governmental agencies, and individuals who have information and interests in the escarpment. The project will help ensure that residents and visitors recognize the Niagara Escarpment as a defining feature of Niagara County.
The Land Conservancy's efforts to preserve the Niagara Escarpment have also been supported with funding from the New York Environmental Protection Fund's New York State Conservation Partnership Program administered by Land Trust Alliance, the United States Fish and Wildlife, HSBC, First Niagara Bank, and Rotary Club of Lockport. Local municipalities and organizations which supported the proposal include: the towns of Cambria, Lewiston, Lockport and Royalton as well as the Village of Lewiston, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Niagara County Department of Public Works, Buildings and Grounds and Parks and Recreation Division, and the Niagara County Soil and Water District.
According to Supervisor Steven Reiter, "The Town of Lewiston is a strong supporter of the Land Conservancy's Escarpment Legacy Project as it will bring a sharper community focus to the potential impact this natural feature has in making our town a destination for many visitors and local residents."
Thus far the New York state portion of the Niagara Escarpment has received somewhat limited public attention. This contrasts with an effort in Ontario, where the geology, fossil diversity, and ecology of the Escarpment has drawn the attention of the United Nations, which recognized the Canadian portion as a World Bio-Sphere Reserve in 1990. In response to international recognition, Ontario has developed a land use and protection plan for the escarpment. Major protection initiatives are also taking place in Wisconsin. An eventual linkage with Canadian and Wisconsin portions of the escarpment would make this not only an ecological, geological and cultural treasure but also a binational community resource.
The Western New York Land Conservancy is a regional, not-for-profit land trust that permanently protects land with significant conservation value in Western New York for future generations. The conservancy envisions a future in which open spaces, working lands, wildlife habitat and scenic beauty are cherished and protected as part of the landscape and character of Western New York. The organization is one of 1,700 land trusts nationwide, including 90 in New York state. The groups have protected 40 million acres over the last 20 years.
For more information on upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, or the mission of the Western New York Land Conservancy, call 716-687-1225 or visit www.wnylc.org.