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Editorial: Environmental stewardship needed to protect pollinators

It’s almost like watching a beautiful flower unfold. Western New York over the past decade seems to have had a great awakening about the importance of improving and protecting its unique environment.

That heightening awareness is now reaching a new level as organizations with an interest in the environment band together in a bid to create a 37-mile pollinator greenway stretching from Woodlawn Beach in Hamburg, down the Niagara River to the shores of Lake Ontario. It’s a mark of a region that has come to a deeper understanding of the great benefits and sober responsibilities conferred by its location on two Great Lakes and along a one-of-a-kind river.

The Pollinator Conservation Association is collaboration among environmental, government, academic and private organizations to protect bees, butterflies and other pollinators by expanding their habitat. Its members include the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, the Western New York Land Conservancy, the New York Power Authority, Tifft Nature Preserve, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Audubon Society.

The importance of the project was neatly summed up by one of the associations’ leaders: “Pollinators are the linchpins in biodiversity, and biodiversity is the linchpin of life on earth,” said Jay Burney. “Biodiversity of animals and plants create our clean water and clean air. They create conditions for food production and human health.”

That’s all.

The project will begin with an inventory: what is here and what should be here. For example, the work could include an effort to identify some of the nearly 2,000 species of bees that could be here, finding the best types of native milkweed for butterflies and even trying to return long-absent species to the region.

The task is already underway. Scientists are researching the plants that line the Niagara River and its islands with a goal of connecting existing pockets of native plants along the length of the project. It’s a challenge, but so are many of the other efforts begun or completed in recent years.

Because of the labors of a variety of private- and public-sector organizations, American eagles are no longer rare sightings here. Neither are herons, egrets, osprey, cormorants, kingfishers, terns, turtles, mink, river otters, lake sturgeon and muskellunge. With effort, it’s possible even to return the endangered Karner Blue butterfly to Buffalo. It is attracted to the spotted bee-balm plant, which is also rare but has been seen at the Outer Harbor’s Bell Slip.

It says something fine about this region that it is undertaking this work and, from the appearances, becoming ever more confident in it. It’s hard to imagine this degree of interest and support 10 or 20 years ago. It’s another way to document that this is a new day in Buffalo.

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