Niagara River Corridor One Step Closer to Receiving New Recognition as “Wetland of International Importance”

“Many of us are aware of how wonderful the Niagara River ecosystem is, but to be honored on a global scale would be an incredible boost both ecologically and economically. These are world-renowned wetlands in our own backyard.”              – Professor Kim Diana Connolly, director of the Environmental Advocacy Clinic at the University at Buffalo School of Law

Provincially significant wetlands under the canopy of the Thundering Waters Forest, in the Niagara River watershed in Niagara Falls, Ontario. file photo

News from the Niagara River Ramsar Binational Steering Committee

Posted April 18th, 2019 on Niagara At Large

(Niagara At Large will be posting more information on this important development for our Niagara River corridor in the days ahead, including comments from key players on both sides of the Ontario/New York State border. Stay Tuned.)

Now here is news released this April 18 by Canadian Chair Jocelyn Baker, U.S. Chair Jajean Rose-Burney and the rest of the Niagara River Ramsar Binational Steering Committee

Niagara Falls New York  – The Niagara River is one step closer to being recognized under an international Convention as a Wetland of International Importance.

The listing of a site under the Ramsar Convention is a source of pride for the site’s community and a major draw for ecotourism.

“This is an exciting advancement for the region. The Ramsar honor will put the Niagara River on par with other Ramsar sites like the Everglades and the Galapagos Islands” said Greg Stevens, Executive Director of the Niagara River Greenway Commission.

The Niagara River Ramsar Binational Steering Committee, made up of local environmental experts and advocates, has been working on this nomination for six years.

This January, with the support of the Steering Committee and University at Buffalo School of Law Environmental Advocacy Clinic, the Niagara River Greenway Commission presented a 98-page nomination package for the U.S. side of the river to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C.

Together, they are continuing to work with the Fish & Wildlife Service to prepare for an official nomination from the U.S. government. If approved, that nomination will go to the Ramsar Secretariat in Switzerland to be added to the list of Ramsar sites around the world.

A video celebrating this nomination can be seen here. Click on the screen below:

The Niagara River is known the world over,” said Professor Kim Diana Connolly, director of the Environmental Advocacy Clinic at the University at Buffalo School of Law.

“Many of us are aware of how wonderful the Niagara River ecosystem is, but to be honored on a global scale would be an incredible boost both ecologically and economically. These are world-renowned wetlands in our own backyard.”

Being on the Ramsar site list serves to recognize and promote the importance of the site, while not imposing any new regulations or restrictions on landowners, either public or private.

The Niagara River is uniquely qualified for Ramsar. The Convention sets out nine criteria; the Niagara River meets eight of nine criteria on the U.S. side, and all nine on the Canadian side.

If both sides of the river are added to the list of Ramsar sites, the combined sites would be the first transboundary Ramsar site in North America.

From any perspective, the Niagara River Corridor is outstanding. It carries an incredible amount of water between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, including over Niagara Falls. Along the way, it supports marshes at Tifft Nature Preserve, Strawberry Island, and more.

The Niagara River supports hundreds of species of plants and animals and is key to mating and migration habits. Because the river stays mostly unfrozen through winter, it is essential to the survival of nearly a hundred species of water birds. There is also a significant human element.

Looking down in the gorge and rushing waters of the lower Niagara River

The river provides fresh drinking water, electricity, and a variety of recreational opportunities and access to nature. The Niagara River corridor is located on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples.

The river attracted early European settlers, leading to its role in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Niagara Falls is already a major tourist draw, and Ramsar recognition would increase those numbers. “The Niagara River Ramsar site will host as many or more visitors each year than any other Ramsar site in the world,” according to Stevens.

Niagara Falls, N.Y. Mayor Paul Dyster who has been a long-time supporter of cross-border co-operation on Niagara River related issues.

Paul Dyster, the Mayor of the City of Niagara Falls (N.Y.)  on the US side, has championed this proposal from day one. “The Niagara River is key to our bi-national region’s well-being. Millions of people drink from it, visit as tourists, and swim, boat, and fish in it. By marking its importance as a Ramsar site, we can help ensure that the Niagara River will be a source of sustenance, celebration and community for the generations that follow.”

“Working with Mayor Dyster illustrates that the securing of the Ramsar designation is truly a binational effort. The Niagara River watershed is critical to the long term sustainability of our communities, and to the health of the Great Lakes Basin,” explains St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik and Director with the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

“Many organizations, academia and volunteers are working to protect and conserve the Niagara River and this designation will further strengthen all of our collective efforts.”

Mark Mistretta, Western District Director for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said “Western New York is fortunate to have the Niagara River in our backyard and this designation would support what we already know, the Niagara River is a wonderful place to get closer to nature. Ramsar designation would be a wonderful validation of that and help us grow as an eco-tourism destination.”

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “The Niagara River is a treasured natural resource that provides critically important habitat for fish and water birds. Designating this river as a significant Ramsar site bolsters the collaborative efforts of New York State and our local and federal partners to protect, conserve, and restore this biodiverse and globally significant ecosystem.”

The Steering Committee and their D.C. counterparts are thrilled that the Niagara River corridor is on the precipice of inclusion on the international list. The Niagara River will rank among the top of this elite community, and will add to Western New York’s growing list of accomplishments.

More information is available at http://www.law.buffalo.edu/beyond/clinics/environmentallaw/niagara-river-corridor.html .

NIAGARA RIVER RAMSAR DESIGNATION BRIEFING NOTE

BACKGROUND

The Ramsar Convention is a voluntary global Convention, signed in Ramsar Iran in 1971.

The purpose of the Convention is to promote the conservation and wise use of waterbased ecosystems, “wetlands’ of international importance including lakes and rivers. Currently, 170 member nations are signed onto the Convention, designating over 2,300 Ramsar sites representing over 252 million hectares of designated “wetlands”.

Ramsar sites are the world’s largest network of designated areas.  The United States currently has 39 designated Ramsar sites and Canada has 37.

In 2013, Niagara River experts from Canada and the United States came together at Brock University in pursuit of a Ramsar nomination for the Niagara River to acknowledge the river’s contribution to global biodiversity and ecological significance.

A binational steering committee was formed to pursue the nomination, including oversight of the development of nomination documents, engagement plans, and other procedural requirements, as outlined in the Ramsar policy documents for each respective country.

Committee members are:

U.S.- Committee Co-Chair Jajean Rose-Burney, Western New York Land Conservancy; Joseph Gould, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper; Ryan McPherson, SUNY Buffalo; Kerry Mitchell, member-at-large; Alicia Pérez-Fuentetaja, Great Lakes Center, Buffalo State College; Lynda Schneekloth, SUNY Buffalo Regional Institute.

The effort has been supported by Kim Connolly, SUNY Buffalo School of Law.   Canada – Committee Co-Chair Jocelyn Baker, member-at-large; Corey Burant, The Niagara Parks Commission; Ryan Plummer, the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, Brock University; Patrick Robson, Niagara College; and Liette Vasseur, the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, Brock University.

In order to qualify for a Ramsar designation nomination, at least one of the following nine criteria must be met:

  1. Is representative, rare, or unique.
  2.  Supports vulnerable, endangered or threatened species.
  3. Supports keystone or endemic species.
  4.  Supports species at a critical stage in their life cycles (migration, breeding).
  5. Supports 20,000 or more waterbirds.
  6. Supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species of waterbird.
  7. Supports a significant proportion of indigenous fish species.
  8. An important food source, spawning area, nursery or migration path for fish.
  9. Supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of wetland-dependent non-avian animal species. (Something that is not a bird).

The Niagara River meets all 9 criteria in Canada and 8 in the U.S.

CURRENT STATUS

United States Niagara River Ramsar Nomination

The Niagara Greenway Commission Board of Directors approved their role as Ramsar site nominator on November 21, 2017.  The U.S. has completed all procedural requirements for endorsement and has submitted the nomination package as required.

Canadian Niagara River Ramsar Nomination

The Niagara Parks Commission Board of Directors approved their role, in principle pending a legal review as Ramsar site nominator.

Currently, Canada is working on the development of an engagement strategy to connect with Niagara communities.  Thoughtful and meaningful engagement is being sought to raise awareness of the importance of the Niagara River, improve understanding of the Ramsar Convention and the designation process. Proof of engagement with the broad stakeholder community and users of the river is a Ramsar designation requirement.

Binational Niagara River Ramsar Support / Engagement

Binational support / engagement has been obtained by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority, and the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.

NOMINATION SUBMISSION     Although the Niagara River Ramsar Site Steering Committee is pursuing the first transboundary Ramsar site designation in the America’s, both Canada and the United States must submit a separate nomination package, as each country has different procedural requirements. The transboundary designation occurs at the end of the process once each country has met the procedural requirements for designation.  It is possible to designate one side of the river.  Dual designation is required for transboundary status.

More information is available at http://www.law.buffalo.edu/beyond/clinics/environmentallaw/niagara-river-corridor.html

Jajean Rose-Burney, U.S. Chair: Niagara River Ramsar Binational Steering Committee, Deputy Executive Director of the Western New York Land Conservancy

Jocelyn Baker, Canadian Chair: Niagara River Ramsar Binational Steering Committee

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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