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Editorial: With the close attention of Riverkeeper, Grand Island’s north shore is recovering

It’s been a glory year for Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. The nonprofit group has flexed its environmental muscle in ways that benefit Western New York and that, earlier this year, won international acclaim for the organization.

The most recent attention for the Riverkeeper was news about its “Living Shorelines” restoration pilot project along a stretch of shoreline on the north side of Grand Island. Its success is proof that even the most degraded environments – which the lower Great Lakes once were – can be reclaimed through steady, ongoing effort.

This is the Riverkeeper’s first in-water restoration project, implemented with the help of the Sandy Beach Park Club, where the project was undertaken. Funded by the Niagara Greenway Ecological Standing Committee and in-kind contributions from the private beach club, the $150,000 project is already a success.

With the new habitat constructed from plants, boulders and logs, new residents have appeared: barking mudpuppies, pinching crayfish, paddling mink, wood ducks, walleye and egrets.

They join the bald eagles, ancient lake sturgeon, great blue herons, cormorants, egrets, turtles, salamanders and other species that are finding the Niagara River area much to their liking in recent years. It’s a tremendous story documenting the ability of humans to make amends for environmental damage unwittingly created in decades past, and stands as a lesson for other regions in the value of patience and planning.

This isn’t aimless tree-hugging. Environmental recovery is the right thing to do, but it’s also economically and socially beneficial. Cleaner lakes and rivers, which Western New York has helped to produce in recent years, not only improve the region’s drinking water, but create more recreational opportunities.

The Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper has been active here for more than a quarter century. It’s actions have helped restore other areas of the Niagara River, including Strawberry, Motor and Little Beaver islands. There, too, once habitat was re-created, wildlife noticed.
Riverkeeper is also working to clean up Scajaquada Creek, one of the most polluted waterways in the state. Sewage overflows and dangerous chemicals contaminate the creek, which has no natural wetlands.

It will be a huge undertaking, but as the rehabilitation of the Buffalo River is showing, it is possible to reverse decades of environmental damage.

For its efforts, the Riverkeeper was awarded the Thiess International Riverprize in September. The award, from the Australian-based International RiverFoundation, recognizes the best efforts in restoring environmental health to rivers of the world.

That’s a reflection not just of what Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper has accomplished here, but of how much work needed to be done. The restoration of the Niagara and Buffalo rivers is a success story still in the making, but many other areas suffer similar plights from the degradation that urbanization unwittingly imposed here.

Those regions can benefit from the example that the new Niagara and Buffalo rivers offer. Few areas have been more abused than the Rust Belt region that surrounds the Great Lakes.

What the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper has demonstrated is that with consistent, strategic effort, it is possible to rebound.

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