Tree-of-heaven can spell doom for our environment and our economy, if left untreated

One way of categorizing plants is based on their origin: native plants are those that have lived in an area since before humans altered the landscape. Conversely, non-native plant species are those that arrived more recently – often with our help. Well-known plants in the latter group include many agricultural crops, the ornamental plants that we use to decorate our gardens, as well as many European species that have long ago become an integral part of our landscape (think Dandelions).  


A subset of these newcomers has the potential to spread out of control and cause negative impacts on our environment and/or economy. Usually because they left the predators, grazers, or diseases that provide biological control behind. Such species are generally referred to as harmful invasive species. Common examples in our area include Japanese Knotweed, Eurasian Honeysuckle, or Garlic Mustard – all spread rapidly into roadsides and other disturbed areas and outcompete native plants. Even though the spread of any harmful invasive carries an ecological and financial cost, some can literally change our landscape. One of such species, the “Tree-of-heaven,” is establishing a foothold along the Chadakoin River in Jamestown and needs our immediate attention.   


Why does one type of plant pose such a great risk to our area? The answer is two-fold: the tree itself is damaging to our environment, but it also attracts a second harmful invasive species: the Spotted Lanternfly. This bug has the potential to deal a devastating blow to our grape, agricultural and forestry industries if it reaches our area. 


Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), commonly referred to as “ailanthus,” is a very fast-growing tree native to China. Its common name is likely derived from its speedy growth habit, as it can reach “heaven” quickly. Tree-of-heaven thrives in very poor soils, in exposed locations, and under tough growing conditions, which allowed it to become widespread in many urban areas. It exudes chemicals from its leaves, roots, and bark that limit or prevent the establishment of nearby other plants, so it can maintain its dominance once established. Also, these trees are hard to kill. Cutting one down will cause dozens of sucker sprouts to emerge from the stump and its root system. If done incorrectly, attempts to remove these trees can have the opposite effect! 


Tree-of-heaven is also the preferred host plant for the Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), originally from China and first detected in the US in 2014. This bug is now firmly established in eastern Pennsylvania and spreading. Lanternflies feed on a variety of fruit, ornamental, and woody trees and are particularly fond of grapes and apples. While feeding, they excrete a sugary substance that covers everything beneath them. Park benches, playground equipment, picnic tables, etc. quickly become covered by this sticky honeydew, which then grows black mold. On a larger scale, a 2020 study by economists in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences projects that, if not contained, the economic impact of Spotted Lanternfly infestations on Pennsylvania’s economy could potentially range from $324-554 million annually and lead to the loss of 2,800-5,500 jobs. Imagine what will happen if this bug reaches Chautauqua County!   


There are several significant stands of Tree-of-heaven growing along the banks of the Chadakoin River. A rigid eradication regime will need to start with targeted chemical treatment of each individual tree and requires ongoing monitoring and retreatment over the next 2-3 years, until all trees and their root systems are dead and can be removed.  


CWC has taken on a leadership role in restoring and activating the Chadakoin River. The first phase of a multi-year project was recently completed, supported by ARPA funds awarded by Jamestown’s City Council. The next phases focus on invasive species removal, revegetation of riverbanks with native plants, and development of a strategic plan for the river. CWC staff has mapped Tree-of-heaven stands in the project area and developed an invasive species management plan to address the existing threat of Tree-of-heaven and mitigate the potential threat of a Spotted Lanternfly invasion. Pro-actively investing in eradication of these harmful trees may spare us from a potentially devastating environmental and economic disaster down the road. 


Since Tree-of-heaven is a veritable Spotted Lanternfly magnet, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) started monitoring a stand in 2021 to assess whether the bugs reached Jamestown yet. Trees were injected with a chemical that kills Lanternflies feeding on tree sap and a collecting tray was placed around the trunk. Fortunately, no Spotted Lanternflies have been detected yet, but we have to take action now!  


To learn more about Tree-of-heaven, visit  

CWC Awarded $51,024 in State CPP Funds!

The NYS State Department of Environmental Conservation recently awarded the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy two New York State Conservation Partnership Program Capacity and Excellence grants, totaling $51,024.


One of the grants provides a $36,000 investment in the development of a Collaborative Regional Conservation Implementation Strategy for Chautauqua County to help CWC, as well as its county, municipal, private, corporate, or non-profit partners, prioritize regional conservation, land use, and economic development efforts. Numerous environmentally sensitive areas exist in the county, but no objective regional land cover analysis has been carried out to identify which areas have the highest priority when it comes to protecting critical water sources, wildlife habitat, or natural resources. Conversely, no standardized analysis has been carried out county-wide to assess which areas are most erosion prone or flood prone or otherwise contribute negatively to our environmental health. CWC has run preliminary models to answer these questions in the Chautauqua Lake watershed, and this new grant will allow CWC to extend such an analysis over the entire county and, consequently, allow better prioritize of the region’s scarce conservation dollars by applying them where they have the greatest impact.


In addition, the development of this Regional Conservation Implementation Strategy will involve significant outreach to inform municipal leaders, landowners, and other stakeholders on the presence of high priority conservation areas in their respective jurisdictions. Ultimately, this project will form a road map to recognition and protection of our most valued natural resources, areas of scenic beauty, and biological diversity, which will help to ensure that Chautauqua County and its residents will enjoy a greener, more beautiful, and more resilient future. This effort will be led by Twan Leenders, CWC Ecological Restoration Manager, with mapping geographic information system (GIS) analysis to be performed by biologist Jonathan Townsend of Royal Fern Nursery.


The second grant awarded to CWC will support organizational growth and includes $15,024 for accreditation preparation and application support. These funds will enable CWC to add needed capacity to augment and document its policies and practices and properly archive important records to become an accredited land trust in 2023. Accreditation will assure its members, sponsors, and funders that CWC is meeting the highest standards for its organizational governance, financial, fundraising and conservation practices among its peer group of land conservation organizations. Increasingly, conservation grant programs require accreditation as a prerequisite for funding. CWC strives to be in the strongest position possible to secure conservation funding that can conserve and restore as many critical habitat areas and sites that capture, store, filter, and deliver clean surface and groundwaters to Chautauqua County’s streams, lakes, and drinking water supplies.


Funded through the Land Trust Alliance/NYS Conservation Partnership Program, these grants are part of a record $3.375 million dollar investment into 51 land trusts across New York State. The Land Trust Alliance administers the Conservation Partnership Program in coordination with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. These programs are tentatively scheduled to run from now through June of 2023.


Read the NYSDEC announcement here: DEC Announces $3.375 Million in Conservation Partnership Program Grants – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation

Prioritizing Landscapes for Conservation

Last fall, the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy undertook a computer analysis of lands comprising the Chautauqua Lake watershed using eleven ecological and water quality criteria to identify and prioritize landscapes for future conservation. Conserving and restoring as much of our natural open spaces in forests and wetlands is essential for fighting climate change and for the future health of our waterways and fish and wildlife populations. CWC will use this analysis to determine how to best invest its limited funding and organizational resources for the most positive water quality, habitat and carbon sequestration impacts. This project was part of CWC’s Chautauqua Lake Watershed Forest, Wetland and Tributary Conservation and Enhancement Program funded by the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance. University of Buffalo Biology PhD candidate Jonathan Townsend was the principal geographic information system (GIS) analyst performing this work.


First, using 2019 land cover data, CWC produced a land cover map of the 180-square mile Chautauqua Lake watershed and determined the percentages of forest and wetland cover in each town and tributary sub-watershed as a measurement of the land cover quality of each. The more forest and wetland cover in a watershed, the cleaner the water that it “sheds” downstream to the lake is. The higher the percentage of suburban lands, developed lands and impervious surfaces in a watershed, the more nutrient- and sediment-laden those runoff waters become. The percentage of forest and wetlands was found to be most pristine at nearly 80% in the portion of the watershed in the Town of Stockton feeding Dewittville Creek and lowest at 48% for the Town of Ellicott’s portion of the watershed. Municipalities concerned about lake conditions can undertake conservation initiatives to conserve remaining forested and wetland areas and adopt tree ordinances, stormwater, land cover and other land use laws to reduce pollution fueling excessive plant and algae growth in their lake waters.


CWC then performed an analysis considering eleven hydrological and ecological indicators of the lands in the watershed. The map above shows a preliminary prioritization of lands across the watershed, with lands indicated in dark orange being lowest priority for conservation, yellow being moderate priority and greens and blues being the highest priority. Some of the factors included whether or not lands were within 300 feet of a stream, whether flood plains, wetlands, steep slopes or interior forest were present, whether known significant habitat areas were present, and whether land was adjacent to existing conserved lands such as nature preserves and state wildlife management areas.


Maintaining and restoring healthy, naturally-forested buffers and wetlands adjacent to all tributary streams feeding the lake is necessary to trap and filter pollutants before they enter the streams and flow to the lake. One can see on this map that stream corridors and wetland areas scored quite highly. Some landscapes that stand out are the large wetland complexes along Big Inlet in the Hartfield to Elm Flats area of the Town of Chautauqua, the Open Meadows marsh area in the Town of North Harmony and wetlands and forests feeding Goose, Prendergast and Ball Creeks. CWC will be presenting this information to the various communities in coming months and encouraging input from landowners, sportsmen, birders and other outdoor enthusiasts on identifying sites with important habitat or water features worthy of conservation to include in its priority conservation plan. As part of this initiative, CWC desires to work with the agricultural community to conserve these features on their properties and to help facilitate the conservation of the most productive agricultural lands across the region to keep those lands in the hands of farmers and not lost to commercial, industrial or residential uses. The CWC will seek to communicate with the owners of the highest priority landscapes in coming months to introduce them to the various opportunities and benefits associated with voluntarily conserving the ecological attributes, water quality and water storage functions of their lands.


The CWC has also applied for 2022 New York State Conservation Partnership Program grant funding and other funding to undertake this priority conservation landscape modeling across the entire county and is seeking funding to conserve several forest, streamside and wetland sites this year.

Two CWC-Facilitated Conservation Projects Awarded $425,576!

Two CWC-Facilitated Conservation Projects Have Been Awarded $425,576!


The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is pleased to announce New York State Water Quality Improvement Program (NYS WQIP) grant awards on two projects that the CWC has been facilitating which will result in considerably less sediment and nutrients reaching Chautauqua Lake!


The Village of Lakewood was awarded a NYS WQIP grant in the amount of $250,064 for the construction of a wetland pond system to be located above the Save-A-Lot plaza in Lakewood to capture stormwater from the Grandview development and settle out nutrients and sediments before that water is slowly discharged to the stormwater system passing under the railroad and Fairmount Avenue and on to Chautauqua Lake. Future flooding of Fairmount Avenue under the railroad bridge should become extremely rare upon completion of this project. This project was conceived by the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy in collaboration with the Village of Lakewood and Town of Busti, with engineering provided by Ecostrategies and with grants and WQIP grant drafting services from the Chautauqua Lake & Watershed Management Alliance (CLWMA).


The Town of North Harmony was awarded $175,512 for bank stabilization and planting at two severely eroding sites consisting of a total of 440 linear feet of Ball Creek at Stow. CWC assisted the Town of North Harmony with engineering technical assistance provided by Ecostrategies, field assessment and proposal writing assistance. The Chautauqua Lake & Watershed Management Alliance is providing grant funding and prepared the successful WQIP grant application for this project. The CWC, Town, CLWMA, County and County Soil & Watershed Management District have collaborated to complete two prior erosion control projects on nearby Ball Creek segments over the last five years. These projects are intended to decrease lake sedimentation in the Ball Creek-Hadley Bay area and reduce nutrient loading, fueling excessive lake plant and algae growth.


Other Chautauqua Lake communities receiving NYSWQIP grants were the Town of Chautauqua for the Chautauqua Roadside Swales Stabilization Project: $213,057 and Chautauqua County/N. Chautauqua Lake Sewer District for a North Chautauqua Lake Inflow and Infiltration Study: $30,000. More details on all of these projects can be found  in the CLWMA press release at:


The CWC will continue to provide technical assistance on the implementation of these important projects and encourages municipal leaders and property owners to contact CWC regarding exploring potential opportunities to capture excessive stormwater runoff and pollutants to enhance streams and lakes of the Chautauqua region. Large expanses of turf, rooftops, roads and parking lots commonly generate excessive amounts of stormwater runoff, soil erosion and pollution, which enhances lake conditions for abundant aquatic plant and algae growth.


CWC seeks to develop more pro-active projects with its partners to reduce the pollution fueling problems in our lakes. You can help support the work which creates impactful projects such as these by making a gift to CWC. You can:

  • Donate online at
  • Mail a check to: CWC, PO Box 45, Lakewood, NY 14750
  • Send a payment via Venmo:

    • Open the Venmo app and search at the top for @ChautauquaWatershedConservancy
    • Under the “People” tab, look for our kingfisher logo and select “Caitlin Gustafson @ChautauquaWatershershedConservancy
    • Select “Pay or Request” to donate any amount!

To donate via a donor advised fund or to make a stock gift, call Whitney Gleason, CWC Development Director, at 716-664-2166 x1006.

Want To Improve Chautauqua Lake? Focus on the Watershed!

Becky Nystrom, President, Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy
Melanie Smith, Chair, Chautauqua-Conewango Consortium, A Waterkeeper Alliance Affiliate

Chautauqua Lake is an old lake, rich in plant diversity and an abundance of living things. The shoreline waters host a well-established diversity of aquatic plants that support multiple natural communities, hold sediments in place, and provide food, oxygen, and critical habitat for countless creatures. All are woven together in an amazing web of interdependency, complexity, and connection. But our lake suffers from a pervasive problem of excessive weeds and unwanted, unsightly, and sometimes harmful and toxic algal blooms.

For many decades Chautauqua Lake has been the receptacle for the by-products of human activities in the watershed. This includes the nutrients in animal waste from farms, human waste, fertilizer, and eroded soils caused by development throughout the watershed. The phosphorus, nitrogen, and other nutrients introduced through these land use practices have contributed to today’s excessive weed and algae growth and harmful algal blooms (HABs). We must think of the nutrients and sediments in Chautauqua Lake not as the “causes” of our lake’s problems, but as the symptoms of a sick watershed. Our lake’s severe algae and plant growth problems result from a distressed system long in the making, and it’s urgent we acknowledge and address the root causes at work.

The bottom line is—we must quickly and effectively change the way we manage the lands in our watershed. According to the Trust for Public Land and American Water Works Association (2004), watersheds should be maintained in at least 60-70% forest and wetlands for clean, non-polluting waters to feed the lake to support improved water quality, wildlife and fisheries habitats, and human health and enjoyment. We must conserve as much of the remaining forest land as possible, protect remaining wetlands, and reforest and restore as much of the watershed as possible. Landscaping of residential and commercial areas must be re-considered, and roadway stormwater systems reconstructed to better absorb precipitation to recharge groundwaters and reduce the severe erosion dumping fresh soil into our waterways every year.

Because New York State declared the lake impaired for phosphorus (based on EPA standards) in 2012, a document titled “Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)” was issued to provide thresholds for various sources of phosphorus. What is rarely discussed, however, are the costs of the needed environmental actions.

The TMDL states: “When lakes receive excess phosphorus, it “fertilizes” the Lake by feeding the algae.” We must opt for the most cost-effective environmental actions with the greatest capacity to reduce nutrients, preferably both phosphorus and nitrogen, reaching the lake. If an action, such as herbicide treatment, only makes the area look better, and does not address nutrient reduction, then those dollars are wasted. Making the reduction of nutrients the top priority directly cuts into the process that causes the unwanted algal blooms.  

Low-cost actions that can be taken by individuals to reduce nutrients abound; protect and retain our tree canopy, allow dead trees to remain, when safe, to retain their deep root systems, scoop the poop, mulch your grass clipping and leaves, avoid using lawn fertilizer routinely, allow no-mow zones to grow, plant a buffer or rain garden.
Actions taken by local governments and lake management officials should be held to the same nutrient-reduction standard. It is the local governments that can adopt and enforce stormwater runoff laws to keep more sediment and nutrients from reaching the lake. It is the local governments that can help support the mechanical harvesting of plants which removes the plant nutrients from the lake as opposed to treatment with herbicides which releases these back into the water column and sediments where they can contribute to algal blooms.

It’s worth noting that the species targeted by herbicide treatments – Curly-leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil – are Tier 4 invasives, meaning that, with the extent of their growth, they cannot be eradicated (Western New York Partnership for Invasive Species Management, or WNY PRISM). These species have been well-established for decades and are now providing services to the living lake communities. Herbicide treatments cannot “target” the Tier 4 species without also causing collateral damage to intermingled native species, including native, beneficial pondweeds and coontail. Financing a large-scale killing of native plants, either directly or indirectly, funds the reduction of the natural biodiversity of the region, including the foraging, spawning, and rearing areas of our world class and economically important muskellunge, walleye and bass fisheries.

We call on our local governments and Chautauqua Lake management efforts to hold watershed land conservation and enhancement efforts at a much higher priority. To truly address the root causes of nutrient loading in Chautauqua Lake, a pro-active, preventive approach is urgently needed to reduce the loss of watershed forests and wetlands, protect streams and stream corridors, control stormwater and erosion, and reduce sediment loading into the lake, including effective stormwater erosion control regulations. Every year in which local governments fail to adopt and enforce such laws means more sediment and pollution are reaching the lake and contributing more phosphorus to be released as “internal loading” each summer.

The sources of our lake’s problems emanate from the watershed. Unless we effectively reduce the flow of nutrients and sediments into the lake from our severely damaged watershed, the lake will incrementally get worse and its symptoms more expensive to treat. Protecting the quality of the water for this lake’s ecology, wildlife habitat, outstanding fisheries, Class A drinking water source, and watershed is a high moral obligation, to the benefit of our region’s economic, ecological, and social well-being.

Let’s work together to make sure that the watershed gets the appreciation, funding, energy, new laws, enforcement, and attention necessary to save and restore its forests and wetlands, and to heal its streams and shorelands delivering clean waters to Chautauqua Lake.


CWC Annual Meeting Attendees Learn How Trees & Forests in Protect Water Quality

Nearly 100 persons attended CWC's Annual Meeting on August 11th at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel! Vince Cotrone, an award-winning Penn State Urban Forester, presented about the essential importance of trees in absorbing rainfall and pollutants in the landscape. Keeping forests intact in your watersheds and maintaining and restoring streamside forest buffers can significantly reduce runoff reducing soil erosion and reducing lake sedimentation. Fertile soil eroded from the watershed fuels abundant aquatic plant growth. He observed that the Chautauqua Mall property is "crying out for trees," recommending CWC and local governments seek infrastructure funding to plant trees on commercial sites and provide incentives for business owners to retrofit such sites with green infrastructure. This will help to intercept the pollutants and stormwater now running off such sites and directly into lake tributaries with no storage or treatment to remove a myriad of pollutants impacting the lake. The handout summarizing information in his presentation can be found at CWC will hold one or more follow-up webcasts with him on stormwater management to reduce lake pollution in upcoming months.

During the CWC business meeting, musician and County Legislator Bill Ward of Mayville was elected as to the board and Michael Jabot of Fredonia, Bill Locke of Ellery, Craig Seger of Lakewood, and Deb Trefts of Chautauqua were re-elected to the board, each for three-year terms.

Treasurer Bill Locke reported that CWC’s event revenues were seriously impacted in 2020, but due to receiving a federal PPP loan, CWC was able to keep its staff fully-employed and finish the last fiscal year with only a small deficit. He noted CWC has had a robust rebound in its grants, donations and event sponsorships in 2021 and would finish its fiscal year on September 30th in a strong financial position.

President Becky Nystrom and Executive Director John Jablonski outlined recent notable accomplishments: 112 LakeScaping consultations for lakeshore buffers and landscaping for wildlife and water quality; CWC assisting in the engineering design of the erosion control projects on Ball Creek for which N. Harmony is seeking $200,000 in State WQIP funding and CWC contributing to the preliminary design of a 1,200-foot long constructed wetland above the Save-A-Lot Plaza for which Lakewood is seeking $250,000 in State WQIP funding to construct to trap nutrients and sediments and protect Fairmount Ave and downstream properties from flooding and flood damage.

Mr. Jablonski also reported that CWC has 1,071 acres at 32 sites under its protection across the Chautauqua region and that more than 5,000 persons have signed in at CWC's preserves since March 2020—stating, "your CWC preserves are a great refuge for people as well fish & wildlife.”  He announced CWC is pursuing several land conservation projects, including at sites on Mud Creek, Goose Creek, Chautauqua Creek, Cheney Creek and more. He also announced that CWC is launching the Fish Hawks (osprey and eagles) & Steelhead Habitat Campaign to conserve habitats along Goose Creek feeding Chautauqua Lake and Chautauqua Creek feeding Lake Erie. Those who would like to make a donation in celebration of the CWC mission may donate at Becky Nystrom thanked all who have generously supported this work over the past year.

CWC Signs County MOU

CWC's Board of Directors recently endorsed Chautauqua County’s Chautauqua Lake Memorandum of Understanding. CWC strongly supports good faith and cordial collaboration among our lake and watershed partners and seeks to continue working together to conserve and improve Chautauqua Lake watershed and in-lake conditions. We support objective, evidence-based science with which to guide management decisions that conserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands, and watersheds of the Chautauqua region, and recognize the critical importance of an economically and ecologically healthy Chautauqua Lake.


The CWC notes, however, our disappointment that the MOU fails to acknowledge the human land uses that continue to contribute significant sources of the phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediments to Chautauqua Lake which fuel excessive weed and algae growth, harmful algae blooms (HABs), and loss of lake depth. Each of the lake’s sub-watersheds should be maintained in at least 60-70% forest and wetlands for clean, non-polluting waters to feed the lake (Protecting the Source, The Trust for Public Land and American Water Works Association, 2004) which, in turn, will support improved Chautauqua Lake water quality, wildlife and fisheries habitats, and human health and enjoyment.


To truly address the root causes of nutrient loading in Chautauqua Lake, a pro-active, preventive approach is urgently needed to reduce the loss of watershed forests and wetlands, protect streams and stream corridors, control stormwater and erosion, and reduce sediment loading into the lake, including effective stormwater erosion control regulations, currently lacking. Every year in which local governments fail to adopt and enforce such laws means more pollution is reaching the lake and contributing more phosphorus cumulatively being released as “internal loading” each summer. And while the NYSDEC has regulatory responsibility over the waters of Chautauqua Lake, it does not regulate local land uses that contribute the nutrients and sediments driving excessive plant and algae growth in the lake. That is primarily up to local municipalities, potentially augmented by the County through its human health protection jurisdiction. CWC encourages local governments to look to Lake George and the Finger Lakes and local land use regulations in other states for examples on how to better protect our precious water resources, now and long into the future.


CWC looks forward to continued participation in the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance and Chautauqua County Water Quality Task Force, and to ongoing and future collaborations with our lake and watershed conservation partners.


Annual Mother’s Day Wildflower Walk

Join us on Sunday, May 9th, for our annual Mother’s Day Wildflower Walk at the Bentley Nature Preserve!

This year, to help with social distancing, CWC is offering two group tours, the first starting at 1PM and led by local naturalist Jack Gulvin, and the second at 2 PM led by CWC Board President Becky Nystrom. The walks will follow the Pamela A. Westrom Wildflower Trail, where tour leaders will point out the numerous wildflowers and ferns typically encountered in the region in springtime.

Participants should dress for the weather and also wear footwear appropriate for the typical muddy conditions of a wooded wetland. Face masks are required for all participants. All other current COVID-19 safety protocols will also be followed.

Advance registration is required, and each group is limited to 15 people. A $5 donation per individual or $10 donation per family for non-CWC members is suggested.

Register online via Eventbrite: Or, if you prefer to register by phone, please contact Tracy at 716-664-2166, ext. 1001.

Find directions to the Bentley Preserve (on Bentley Avenue in Jamestown) here:

Read more about the Bentley Nature Preserve here: Bentley Preserve – Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy