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14-acre wetlands donation ensures protected habitat, focus for research

An important habitat for fish and wildlife will remain pristine for years to come, thanks to the donation of 14 acres of wetlands to the Town of West Seneca.

The gift -- from the estate of Robert and Bernadette Jacobs -- was celebrated by town officials, Jacobs family members, environmentalists and researchers from the University at Buffalo on Tuesday during an event sponsored by the West Seneca Commission for the Conservation of the Environment, at the Burchfield Nature & Art Center on Union Road.

"They donated it specifically for conservation purposes," said Evelyn A. Hicks, a member of the West Seneca Commission for the Conservation of the Environment.

The deed to the property contains a conservation easement ensuring that the site will be protected in perpetuity for nature studies and the conservation of its natural habitat, said Margaret Wooster of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, which is working with the town on a stewardship plan.

The site also will serve as a natural laboratory for scientific inquiry into how such sites along the heavily industrial Buffalo River watershed can be made ecologically healthy and self-sustaining. Eventually, it will serve as a limited-access nature preserve.

"The property is not open to the public because there is no access and there are no trails. We're working on a restoration plan for the property," Wooster said. "Eventually, the access issue will be figured out over the next five to 10 years."

Also assisting with the plan are UB graduate students from several disciplines, including biology, economics, culture and philosophy, said David M. Blersch, a research scientist and coordinator of UB's Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange program, or ERIE.

Blersch said the students are excited about the long-term research aspects of the habitat, as fewer and fewer such sites remain.

"In 1978, a [West Seneca] land-use study conducted by the commission at that time found that there were 5,800 acres of undeveloped land and 590 acres of active farmland," Hicks said.

"The most recent [Global Information System] study conducted by Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper says there's only 1,100 acres of floodplain left."

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper has received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to preserve land in the creek corridors.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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