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Land Conservancy explains tree cutting at Stella Niagara

LEWISTON – Nancy Smith, executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy, said last week that the cutting of trees in the Stella Niagara Nature Preserve was a first step in the effort to limit the site to native species.

The Buffalo News received an email from a Lewiston resident who objected to the tree removal. “That was a beautiful area before man decided to improve on it,” the resident wrote.

Smith said the Conservancy was trying to remove dead or dying ash trees that were ravaged by the emerald ash borer, an insect whose infestations have become common across the region.

“The majority of the trees were completely dead or about to be,” Smith said.

She also said the Conservancy removed some Norway maples, which, despite being a common tree in neighborhoods and subdivisions, are not native to Western New York and thus are examples of species the Conservancy’s plan seeks to remove from the Stella Niagara site.

Smith said, “Insects won’t eat them. They might nibble on a sugar maple. Those insects are food for the birds we want to attract at Stella. It’s a connected web of life.”

Andrea Locke, coordinator of the Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management at SUNY Buffalo State, said Norway maples are a street tree “because they grow in various conditions very well, and they’re difficult to kill. … I would consider them an invasive species everywhere.”

Locke said Norway maples also are “very prolific” in spreading seeds. If the Stella site weren’t rid of that tree, “They’ll end up with a field full of Norway maples.”

As for the ash trees, Locke supported their removal because of the ash borer threat. Removing dead or diseased trees protected the ones not yet attacked by the insects.

“When the trees die, they die very quickly and they become a human hazard,” Locke said. That means fallen limbs or collapsing trees, neither of which she felt was safe beside a nature trail.

Locke’s group assisted the Conservancy with its original survey of the preserve and is expected to help with some removal of invasive species, but it didn’t work on the Stella plan itself.

Smith said the Conservancy is managing “more than 10 acres of forest, not just a scattered tree in the meadow.”

She said the Stella plan includes plantings of several tree species that are native to tis region, such as white pine, red cedar and three varieties of oaks: bur, white and chinquapin.

“We’re also planting native shrubs,” Smith said. Examples are witch hazel, winterberry and nannyberry, along with wildflowers that may provide food for endangered populations of monarch butterflies. Their favorite food is milkweed.

The Lewiston resident who wrote to The News noted that wild turkeys have been a common sight in the Village of Lewiston this winter and claimed the clearing of trees might take away sheltering spots, especially protection from coyotes and turkey vultures.

Smith said a turkey vulture is a scavenger, not a predator, and wouldn’t attack a live turkey.

Locke said, “Turkeys need trees, but they need open spaces, too. They really need that mix of different habitat types.” That’s why it’s not uncommon to see a flock of turkeys standing in an open area along a road, not far from woods, she said.

The nature preserve covers 29 acres off Lower River Road. It runs a quarter-mile along the lower Niagara River and opposite the Stella Niagara Education Park and Motherhouse. The Sisters of St. Francis, the Franciscan nuns who live in that convent, acquired the property in 1907. In need of funds, the community of aging nuns sold it to the Conservancy last year for $2.25 million.

The Conservancy pledged to keep the land natural in perpetuity, while preserving a John F. Kennedy memorial, a chapel and a Lourdes-like grotto that the sisters had installed.

“The public really values that beautiful view down the river,” Smith said.

To explain the importance of limiting the preserve to native species, the Conservancy is offering a talk by Doug Tallamy, author of the book “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants.”

Tallamy will appear at 7 p.m. May 10 in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts in Amherst.

Tickets are $20 and are available online through, or at the UB box office.

Smith also announced that the New York Upstate chapter of the American Planning Association is giving the Conservancy an award for the public outreach it did on the Stella project, including two well-attended public presentations and other meetings with stakeholders.