Buffalo native species of sub-aquatic vegetation returning to Buffalo River after over a century

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Published July 28, 2018
Buffalo native species of sub-aquatic vegetation returning to Buffalo River after over a century

USACE Buffalo contractors planting native species along the Buffalo River bank as part of an ecosystem restoration project, June 25, 2018.

Buffalo native species of sub-aquatic vegetation returning to Buffalo River after over a century

An old wooden dock removed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District in anticipation of an ecosystem restoration project along the Buffalo River, in Buffalo, NY.

An old commercial stretch along the Buffalo River is getting a serious environmental makeover, thanks to the Corps of Engineers Buffalo District and their contractor, L.D.C. Construction.

In the early 1800s, Buffalo was renowned as a hub of some of the busiest commercial boating traffic in the country, as ships carrying goods traveled from the far reaches of the Great Lakes up through the St. Lawrence Seaway. The river was part of the Erie Canal system. Before steamboats took over, horses and mules dragged barges along the Buffalo River. For easy docking and unloading of wares, industry leaders pushed for reinforcing the riverbank with high concrete walls, which have largely stood the test of time.

As with any industrial progress, there were negative environmental impacts.

After decades of virtual abandonment, the only sign of Buffalo’s old commercial glory days was the leftover dilapidated concrete walls along the river, with a spattering of rundown and abandoned factories and warehouses. The riverbank left in that state was not hospitable and in many ways, even accessible to wildlife.

Saving the Buffalo River from being stuck in time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is funding the project, and it’s one of many others in place to restore the river to its pre-industrial condition. The Corps of Engineers facilitated the removal of an old wooden dock and opened up an area along the river. To be a vibrant, bio-diverse habitat, the riverbank needed the introduction of appropriate vegetation that would thrive in the Buffalo River’s ever-changing conditions.

“This project has three zones of plants depending on the plant species, and how deep they can be planted in the Buffalo River” said Katie Lewis, Contracting Officer Representative with the Buffalo District.

The Corps of Engineers project is one of three sites that are currently being planted along the Buffalo River but is the only location with an upper riparian zone. In the last week of June, 2018, the USACE contractor was planting native species in the riparian zone, which is several feet above the waterline along the riverbank. They are planting 1000 plugs and 53 container shrubs that will help provide structural support for the riverbank. The other two zones moving downslope toward the river are the emergent vegetation and the sub-aquatic vegetation zones.  

A crewmember with Applied Ecological Services, a subcontractor of L.D.C. Construction noted that the variety of native species being planted can sustain the sometimes harsh and unpredictable river conditions, with each plant specifically chosen for its ability to tolerate certain water depths and interactions with local wildlife like beavers and deer. Button Bush is among the species they are planting.

The Corps of Engineers has a longstanding history of dredging about 6.2 miles (10.0 km) of the approximately 8-mile (13 km) river so doing work along the river in an ecosystem restoration capacity was a natural fit for the Buffalo District. The Corps of Engineers has worked on a number of environmental projects along the Great Lakes in the past few years, such as those on Unity Island, Times Beach and Walnut Beach in Buffalo, NY, and Braddock Bay in Greece, NY.

A great deal of careful planning led to the selection of the area for reintroducing native plant species.

“This site was chosen from many locations along the Buffalo River because it doesn’t have industry right outside of it,” said Lewis. “We had a lot of old dock here prior to this project, which our contractor, L.D.C., removed last fall, and it’s really opened up this area for a great planting space, which can be visible right across from Riverworks.”

Aquatic fowl along the river have already taken notice of the new plants. To protect the new growth, contractors installed fencing and ropes to deter birds from harming the plants in their infancy stage. The contractor is responsible for protecting the plants during the growing season for the duration of the contract. Since the contract ends in the spring of 2020, the plants will be protected during this year and next year’s growing season. Once the area is established, it will be accessible for the local avian wildlife.

After plant installation, the contractor will continue to water and monitor the plants through the growing season. At the end of the season, the Corps of Engineers will evaluate the plants’ growth performance to make sure the species are establishing. By the end of the contract, the goal is to reach a performance metric of at least 80% growth within the plants installed.

“We will measure success by how well the newly planted vegetation takes”, said Lewis, “we are really excited to be a part of not only helping restore some of the habitat along the Buffalo River but also helping beautify the riverbank and making our city more welcoming.”

Development along this reach of the Buffalo River has increased over the years and the Corps of Engineers is hoping the new habitat area will complement the new development in the area. For example, the landowner near the project site installed floating docks, which make the area more inviting, and Ellicott Development built new apartments at 301 Ohio Street that are adjacent to the project site.

To view the full interview with Katie Lewis, visit: