Building Stream Buffers for Niagara’s Rivers Project

Building Stream Buffers for Niagara’s Rivers Project

By Patti Green, Niagara Restoration Council

The Niagara Restoration Council (NRC) has been actively involved in environmental projects in the Niagara River Watershed in south eastern Ontario for over ten years. In that time we have partnered with the community to design, implement, and monitor various projects.Two current endeavours include a fish barrier removal project in the Niagara River watershed, and a wildlife corridor enhancement projectwithin the subwatersheds of the Fifteen,Sixteen,and Eighteen Mile Creeks.

The Niagara Restoration Council (NRC), through its project, ‘Building Stream Buffers for Niagara’s Rivers,’aims to improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat through the planting of riparian vegetation along watercourses in the Niagara region. In the last couple of years, the NRC has undertaken several highly successful riparian buffer plantings on municipal property, golf courses and high traffic areas that provide many opportunities for public involvement and benefit.

The project aims to restore streamside vegetation for the fulfillment of many ecological purposes, such as the provision of critical shoreline habitat for wildlife. Buffers also promote bank stabilization and protect stream banks from erosion, thereby reducing sediment loads into the creek. Plants protect water quality through the filtration of pesticides, fertilizers and overland surface flow before they reach the watercourse. Vegetation further moderates water levels and flow velocities through long term bank storage.

Maple Park, one of the NRC’s most recent buffer planting locations, is a public recreation park owned by the City of Welland that has a 350 meters section of Draper’s Creek running through it. Prior to restoration in 2004, the banks of the creek were barren of sufficient vegetation, providing no buffering or filtration capacity to the creek, or habitat for wildlife. Fish and wildlife sightings were essentially non-existent.

In 2004, the City of Welland allowed the NRC to plant an experimental section along 140 meters of the creek, and due to its great success in the first year, further buffer plantings occurred in 2005. The “before” photograph illustrates the prime candidacy of Draper’s creek for riparian buffer restoration.

The site was prepared through the removal of sod, and then planted with over 20 species of native riparian grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers including black-eyed susan, blue vervain, cardinal flower, butterfly weed, swamp milkweed, New England aster, as well as dogwoods and willows. Over forty volunteers and local landowners from four of the neighbouring properties came to assist with planting!

Due to the success after the first year of planting, the City of Welland agreed to have the Niagara Restoration Council continue the planting of an additional 210 meters of Draper’s Creek in Maple Park in 2005. The project was made possible with the financial assistance of the Government of Canada’s Great Lakes Sustainability Fund,TD Bank Friends of the Environment Foundation, and the Niagara Community Foundation, as well as the logistical and technical support from the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and other project partners.

Overall, the project has been very successful, and has realized many of the goals of the ‘Building Stream Buffers for Niagara’s Rivers Project’. The project has created an opportunity for the public to learn about riparian buffer strips, and their function in an ecosystem. Landowners have become very involved with the project, and have agreed to help maintain the “no mow” zones alongside the creek. Signs explaining the project have been erected on site, and provide information regarding their importance.

The 350 meters buffer strip established has resulted in the creation of 3000 meters2 of wildlife habitat. Immediately following the planting of vegetation, an increase in wildlife was seen, including a greater presence of dragonflies, butterflies, and ducks. It quickly became evident that the vegetative growth was stabilizing the banks and reducing erosion. A few months after planting, the creek began to form some minor bank undercutting, leading to the creation of superior refuge areas for fish. This riparian vegetation demonstrates the ability of buffer strips to perform vital ecological functions,while being pleasing to the eye in a municipal park!

For more information:

Patti Green, Niagara Restoration Council
250 Thorold Rd.W. 3rd Floor • Welland, ONT L3C 3W2
PH: (905) 788-0248 • niagararestoration@becon.org

 

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.