Blog

  • Wild Jamestown

    By Jeff Tome Turtles basking on a log slipped off into the green water as we paused to watch them. The area was so green that it practically glowed. Large ferns mixed with flowers and Skunk Cabbage leaves bigger than your head made the forest look like some exotic swamp. Large patches of Blue Vervain, a purple flower, towered over our heads and was covered with butterflies. If a Tyrannosaurus Rex had stumbled out of the steaming forest and started chasing us up the trail, it would not have been a total surprise. This stunning area of natural beauty was found right near the heart of Jamestown. The new bike trail that starts near McCrea Point wanders right along the outlet to Chautauqua Lake. Painted Turtles and families of Wood Ducks lined logs on the long ditches.  Kingbirds and Cedar Waxwings perched on dead trees and dashed out to grab insects on the wing from overhead. On a Tuesday morning, there were plenty of other people using the trail. A family with a Golden Retriever walked from the picnic pavilion at Chadakoin Park. Two fishermen biked slowly past with coolers strapped to the back of their bikes. A pair of teachers rode past on bikes, enjoying their summer vacation. One of the great parts of a bike trail is that users pass each other quickly, then it feels like you are alone outside again. Chautauqua Lake is an amazing place, but unless you have a boat (and I don’t) there aren’t many places where you can enjoy the lake and the plants and animals that live next to it. This short path cruises by forests, swamps, fields and the lake itself. It’s like biking through a highlights reel of all that makes the lake and its surroundings amazing. In part, the lake is amazing because of the land around it. The wild creeks, marshes and swamps filter and clean the water before it gets to the lake. This makes the lake a little bit cleaner. These wild spots, like the ones along the bike trail, also provide incredible scenery to pass through. A mile goes fast on a bike, but it’s hard not to stop and watch the butterflies, birds and turtles as you go past. After a couple of minutes, it is easy to forget that you started the trail in the city. Traffic sounds fade away and are replaced by bird, buzzing cicadas and the startled yelps of Wood Ducks as they realize they have been seen and take off for another part of the swamp. Jeff Tome is a Senior Naturalist and Exhibits Coordinator at the Audubon Community Nature Center, a former CWC board director and a longtime CWC volunteer.   The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region.  For more information, call 716-664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.  

  • Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants of Western New York

    By Jonathan Townsend I have always been fascinated by the topic of wild edible and medicinal plants. There is something truly freeing about the ability to collect food and medicine from the wild, without money and without a prescription. Not to in any way impinge on the many benefits of modern medicine, but you don’t always need to go to a doctor for an antibiotic, a cough or a cold. Often the nutritional content of wild edibles is significantly higher than store bought goods, and in fact, many of our current synthesized medicines originated from a plant's tissue. An excellent example of this is the Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), which is high in Vitamins A, C, D and B complex. Once a staple in our diets as a salad green or used for the roots or flower head, the dandelion is now considered a weed and the target of whatever herbicidal regiment one has at hand. Despite this crusade at elimination, the dandelion is still ubiquitous, still surviving and also still available to all who want to try. The bitter taste associated with dandelions and many wild salad greens is actually an indication of a potent antitoxin that purifies the blood. Burdock (Arctium lappa) is probably better known for the extremely irritating way it spreads its seeds, but it is another common “weedy” plant that has a myriad of medicinal uses. Burdock is an extremely potent blood purifier and is used world-wide. Additionally, it can be used to treat gout, sciatica, psoriasis and acne. The young tender leaves are also great as salad greens or cooked down in vinegar. A word of caution – you cannot simply just go out into the world and start collecting random plants to eat! Every year, there are many who get sick and even die from accidental poisonings. For example, Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) and Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) are in the same family and both look very similar. Poison Hemlock is extremely toxic, while Queen Anne’s Lace is essentially wild carrot. However, Queen Anne's Lace has a characteristic dot in the center of the flower head, a fairly easy distinction – provided you know this key distinction! Knowing how to accurately identify a plant is essential. Botanists utilize several plant attributes that tell them very precisely what genus and species they are looking at. This skill and knowledge can only come with time and study and is imperative to gain if you want to succeed at collecting edible and medicinal wild plants safely. Besides toxic look-alikes, the location of where you are collecting is also important to note. Many areas of our world are polluted through human activity, and there are regions that have naturally occurring toxic elements like mercury and lead. Old railway tracks may also seem like a promising area to look, but keep in mind the powerful industrial strength herbicides that were sprayed on the tracks while the railway was operational. This may seem funny to some, but make sure there aren't any dogs, cats or large populations of wild animals where you are picking – urine and feces can be a contaminant that no one wants to accidentally ingest! Proper preparation of a plant can be critical as well. Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is covered with nasty looking spines, apparently inedible. However, boiling the young leaves removes those spines and provides a spinach-like meal. There are many other plants that must be properly dried or cured before eating as well, so make sure you learn the most appropriate method for the species of plant at hand. Besides the more common lawn and roadside species, there are many native species that have potent medicinal properties. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a common ornamental garden plant in Western New York. Many herbal teas and immune boosting remedies contain Echinacea, which can be found in the roots, leaves, flowers and seeds of this plant. Two other native wildflowers that have edible or medicinal uses are Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) and Beebalm (Monarda didyma). Jerusalem Artichokes have a very tasty potato-like tuber underground, which can be prepared in exactly the same way. They are fast growing and easy to propagate. Beebalm, a member of the Lamiacaea or Mint family, is commonly used in teas. Mints often contain thymols, which are potent antibacterial or antifungal chemicals. Native Americans would boil the roots and leaves to concoct an antiparasitic tonic.      There are hundreds of other useful species in this area, including cattails, assorted berries, various trees with edible fruits, leaves and nuts – even pine pitch can be used medicinally! So why not look further into this most fascinating topic – not just as a hobby but also as a way to further connect with the natural world and improve your physical health at the same time!   Jonathan Townsend is a Conservation Biologist at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, co-owner of Royal Fern Nursery, former CWC Conservation Lands Manager and local bat expert. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region.  For more information, call 664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.  

  • Yard Waste, A Natural Pollutant

    By CWC Conservationist Claire Quadri Have you ever seen your neighbor push a wheelbarrow full of grass clippings to a nearby empty lot and, without hesitation, dump the load over the edge of the streambank?  What about seeing someone rake his or her yard clean of fall leaves and then pile them behind some shrubbery along the water’s edge? Or maybe you’ve seen a homeowner or landscaper hose lawn clippings or leaves down a nearby storm drain? You may have not given any of these practices a second thought. Most people wouldn’t. After all, yard waste is natural.  It’s biodegradable.  It isn’t a pollutant…..or is it? When we think of pollution, most of us picture leaking drums of chemicals, oil spills or industrial discharges. However, a pollutant is any material that occurs in a harmful concentration in a particular environment. Pollution does not have to be synthetic. Even natural, biodegradable materials – like yard waste – can cause pollution when present at a concentration and in a location where they cause harm. When yard waste is dumped on the water’s edge, in a ditch or in a stream, rain eventually washes these materials to a nearby waterway, which leads to the lake. Grass clippings, leaves and other yard waste contain nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients that act as fertilizer in the lake. Excess nutrients fuel the growth of lake weeds, algae and even harmful algae blooms, which are toxic to humans and animals. Additionally, the decomposition of excess weeds and algae in the lake can use up the oxygen that fish and native plants need. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has already designated Chautauqua Lake as an impaired water body because of high phosphorus concentrations. The addition of more phosphorus and nitrogen from decomposing yard waste further pollutes the lake. Even though yard waste is natural and biodegradable, its decomposition results in even higher concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen, which further contribute to the lake’s pollution. If you don’t own lakefront property, you may feel that it doesn’t matter what you do with yard waste. However, the rainwater flowing from your property carries yard waste to ditches, streams and street drains which then transports these materials to the lake, even if you live far from the lake. You may also feel that the relatively small amount of landscaping waste from your yard won’t make a difference to the health of the lake. Your yard may not seem very big, but together, all of the yards around Chautauqua cover a lot of ground! Your yard care choices, combined with everyone else’s, will make a difference to the lake’s water quality. So how do you keep your yard from polluting the lake? Keep your yard waste in your yard!   Use a mulching mower, and leave the pulverized grass clippings on the lawn. In the fall, either mow and mulch the leaves where they fall or mow and mulch a whole pile of leaves.  If you leave the pile in place until spring, you will have high-quality compost without any additional effort! When leaves and grass clippings remain in your yard, the phosphorus, nitrogen and organic matter are a valuable fertilizer and soil supplement. However, these same materials, if they had reached the lake, would have been a pollutant. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region.  Funding has been provided by the Chautauqua Lake & Watershed Management Alliance. 

  • Summer is Finally Here!

    By Susan M. Songster-Weaver Did you hear the story about the conversation between two friends? The one said to the other, “I love summer in Chautauqua County!” “Really?” said the other. “Yep,” the first one replied. “It was on a Sunday last year!” All kidding aside, I thought this joke was going to ring true this year. With a frost in June, torrential rains, tornadoes and temps in the 40s at night, what else would a person think?  But finally, by the end of June, it seemed we are getting some beautiful summer weather. With at least two great weekends now under our belts, I am ready for some all-American outdoor picnics and parties here on Chautauqua Lake. Burtis Bay is proving to be a very popular place as the weather improves. Kayakers are here almost every day. I watch them paddle by, two or three to a group. They seem to especially enjoy the magnificent sunsets that we are becoming well known for. Water skiers can be seen out there having the time of their lives. Tubers can be heard whooping it up as they bounce and fly over the waves. Pontoon boats, filled to the brim with smiling human cargo, slowly float by heading to the Rod and Gun Club or perhaps the new Harbor Hotel. Laughing children are running around chasing each other while their parents rest in the shade with a cold beverage. Everyone else is out on the docks, trying their luck with worms and lures to catch some tasty pan fish for supper. Both of the rental houses near me have been full of happy visitors from Erie and Cleveland. Music is heard while games of lawn golf are being played. People are in their blow-up chairs floating near the docks. Nighttime brings campfires and s’mores with more music and laughter. All is good in the world. I love the lake and everything that goes with it. My heart was bursting with joy the other morning when I woke up to a lovely sunrise. I stepped out onto my deck to take it all in. The sun was casting its magical glow on the world, promising a new day of hope and happiness, when I saw an amazing site. Out on the calm lake, as the blanket of morning fog was saying its good-byes, I saw a lone paddle boarder. A kindred spirit, I thought – someone who knows what pure joy is. Maybe later this week that will be me. I have my dock in, and the boat is in the water just waiting for some anxious kids wanting to go for a ride. So far this summer, I have kayaked and swam in the lake, but I need to get my paddle board out there. I haven’t used it in two years because of the weeds and algae. I am hoping I can still stand up on it! Water skiing has always been my love, but I am a little leery to try it after having my knee replacement surgery. Maybe I will get brave enough if we have an especially calm day and have a trusted friend behind the steering wheel.     As I am finishing up this article, my mind is wandering to the next few days. Family is invited here for the 4th of July holiday, my sisters are coming for the weekend and another family party is scheduled for Sunday. I’ve got cleaning and cooking to do, but with the lake and the weather so nice, I might just put off the work for a little bit. I might just grab a book and my lounge chair and go sit in the sun. They’ll understand, right? After all, what else is take-out for? This summer, I hope you get to enjoy the weather and the area. We are blessed. See you on the water – and be sure to keep a lookout for me on that paddle board at dawn! Susan M. Songster Weaver is retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region.  For more information, call 716-664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.  

  • Are You Fertilizing The Lake?

    By John Jablonski III, CWC Executive Director Is lawn fertilization contributing to Chautauqua Lake’s algae blooms?  Chautauqua Lake has experienced seasonal algae blooms for decades.  It has always been a relatively fertile lake, with abundant plant and algae contributing to very productive panfish, smallmouth and largemouth bass, and muskellunge fisheries.  Our lake has suffered from more prolonged harmful algae blooms in recent summers.  Changes in the lake community after its invasion by zebra mussels, global warming and possibly other contributing factors have caused blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) blooms to be documented at various locations in the lake resulting in beach closures and advisories against swimming more often.  Cyanobacteria sometimes produce toxins that can be poisonous to pets and humans.  Blooms with the toxins present are called “harmful algae blooms” or HABs for short. What does it take to produce a bloom?  The cyanobacteria need to be present with warm water, sunshine and nutrients – especially phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) – in order to grow and reproduce rapidly, thus creating a bloom.  In freshwater lakes, phosphorus is a main driver of algae blooms. New York State prohibits the sale of lawn fertilizers containing phosphorus for routine lawn fertilization.  One can purchase lawn “starter” fertilizer containing P to help germinate recently seeded lawns.  Phosphorus is naturally abundant in most soils in our region.  P comes from treated wastewater, runoff from fertilized crop fields and pastures and as part of soil eroded from yards, fields, stream banks, and construction sites.  It falls from the sky as a pollutant in precipitation.  Nitrogen is different.  Many species of cyanobacteria can get their nitrogen directly from nitrogen gas dissolved in lake water.  Our atmosphere is 78% nitrogen.  Many cyanobacteria need abundant phosphorus to grow but don’t need nitrogen in the “fixed” form of ammonia or nitrate to grow.  However, nitrogen in the form of ammonia, urea or nitrates  is much more efficiently used than gaseous nitrogen.  Recent research on Chautauqua Lake by SUNY-Fredonia researcher Jennifer Phillips Russo, working with Courtney Wigdahl-Perry, Ph.D., indicates that the growth of cyanobacteria implicated in “blue green algae” blooms in Chautauqua Lake, may be promoted by fixed nitrogen in the form of ammonia or nitrate.  In Russo’s experiments, cyanobacteria growth accelerated with when abundant phosphorus and these nitrogen compounds are present.  This is affirmed by similar findings for Microcystis for Lake Erie.  The SUNY-Fredonia Benchmark Chautauqua Lake Studies had also indicated that algae abundance was limited by available nitrogen compounds in the 1970s.  Other research has found that the abundant cyanobacteria in the Lake is of the species that need nitrogen in the water in a form other than the gaseous form in order to grow abundantly to form blooms. Where does “fixed” nitrogen come from?  Soil organisms can obtain nitrogen in the air and use it to form nitrogen compounds more readily available for plants and algae.  It comes from animal and plant wastes.  It comes from human wastes.  It comes from fertilizers spread to grow crops and lawns across our watersheds.   Wastewater treatment plants on Chautauqua Lake have limits on the amount of nitrogen compounds that can be released to the lake.  Nitrates from animal wastes, fertilizers and septic systems are soluble and can pass through the soil into the nearest water body or into well water.  Many farms in our region are implementing agricultural environmental management plans to reduce loss of nutrients from cropland to waterways. Turf grass, such as Kentucky blue grass in lawns, needs annual applications of nitrogen fertilizer to be healthy in a lawn.  Other species need less nitrogen.  Fertilizing lakefront and watershed lawns in the summer may directly contribute to feeding harmful algae blooms in our lakes.  Just because the product says “phosphate-free” doesn’t mean it won’t fertilize lake algae and plants. If you choose to fertilize your lawn.  To avoid fertilizing lake algae and plants, follow the recommendations in the Cornell Lawn Care Without Pesticides publication that, for most low maintenance lawns, a fall application of nitrogen fertilizer is best (between Halloween and Thanksgiving).  Following this recommendation will make it least likely that the nitrogen in the fertilizer will wash into the nearest waterway and into the lake where it can fuel nuisance algae blooms during the summer season. You can access the entire Lawn Care Without Pesticides document for more detailed lawn care information at https://ecommons.cornell.edu/handle/1813/43857.   The Conservancy invites all landowners and landscapers to “get on board” to starve the algae and save our lakes by carefully managing healthy landscapes for healthy waters! Contact the CWC for assistance with landscaping your yard or grounds to improve its benefits for clean water and wildlife habitat. CWC will be holding its annual meeting at 5 PM Saturday, July 20th at Webb’s with Dr. Rebecca Schneider, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, presenting on the impacts of global warming on our waters and the role of land trusts in addressing those impacts. The public is invited to attend.  For more information, visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed, or call 664-2166.