Niagara River Corridor Ramsar Site
Could the Niagara River be designated as a wetland of international importance, or Ramsar site? We sure think so.
The Niagara River, which connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, is an environmental treasure. It is home to more than 700 species of plants, 300 bird species, 100 fish species, and many more mammals, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, and insects. More than fifty of these species are endangered, threatened, or protected in New York State.
The river is an incredibly important corridor for migratory birds, especially songbirds, winter waterfowl, and gulls. In fact, it is designated as a globally significant Important Bird Area, on par with places like Yellowstone and the Everglades. It is also an important nursery for spawning fish, including the endangered Lake Sturgeon.
The Niagara River has not always been this healthy. Decades of industrialization left the river polluted. Urban development and highways along its shores degraded wildlife habitat. Although we are still dealing with the legacy of these problems, the river is on a rebound. The thousands of people who fish, boat, and watch birds there are a testament to this change.
The millions of people who visit Niagara Falls annually may not realize how far we have come. The Ramsar designation could celebrate this turnaround.
The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty that promotes the sustainable use of the world’s wetlands. According to Ramsar, wetlands can include almost all water-based habitats, including rivers, but to be a Ramsar site they must meet certain ecological criteria, like sustaining endangered species, migratory birds, or rare ecosystems. The Niagara River meets nearly all of these criteria.
So far, there are 36 designated Ramsar sites in the U.S. and 37 in Canada, but none that cross international borders – transboundary sites – like the Niagara River. The proposed designation would include river itself as well as protected greenspaces, like the Stella Niagara Preserve. It would not include private properties along the shore.
Ramsar is voluntary and non-regulatory. The designation cannot be granted without permission of all landowners within the site, public or private, and does not impose new restrictions on land use or development. Instead, it celebrates the importance of the site, can attract outside funding for projects, and encourages better management of natural resources.
The Land Conservancy is working with a team of steering committee members from the U.S. and Canada to promote the Niagara River Corridor as a Ramsar site.
Would you like to see the Niagara River celebrated as a wetland of international importance?
The Land Conservancy is one six organizations on a “steering committee” leading the process that began in earnest in fall 2013. Land Conservancy staff is assisting with:
- facilitating a working group of international stakeholders;
- developing the nomination report with support from students in University at Buffalo (UB) Law School class, UB urban and regional planning students, and students from Brock University in Canada; and
- supporting public engagement and elected official engagement.
If found to be feasible through this process, the nomination package may be submitted in 2016, with a formal designation to follow.