A Visit to the Western New York Land Conservancy

Tim & Megan outside a bakery selling Williamsville family farm products.
Tim & Megan outside a Williamsville NY bakery selling local family farm products.

In November 2012, Tim Seburn, the current chair of the Niagara Land Trust, crossed the Niagara River to visit with Megan Mills Hoffman of the Western New York Land Conservancy (WNYLC), hoping to get a sense of what the future might hold for the Niagara Land Trust (NLT).

Each land trust has its own character, depending on the nature of the region it serves. However, the landscape in Western New York is not dissimilar from the Ontario side. Both the American and Canadian sides of the Niagara Frontier have significant coasts habitats along the shorelines of Lakes Erie and Ontario and share the Niagara River and the Niagara escarpment as significant natural features.  The shared history of development, beginning after the American Revolution, as well as the shared landscape features, have led to similar patterns of land use.

The WNYLC was established in 1991 and the NLT in only 2009, so there is a longer history of farmers, rural landowners and businesses in Western New York working together to conserve their landscape. They do this by using the WNYLC to help coordinate and support local food initiatives, which in turn encourages community-based stores and businesses such as restaurants and wineries. The WNYLC also works in partnership with other conservation and academic organizations in Western New York and is looking at ways to partner with Gardening Clubs to encourage native plants initiatives. The WNYLC  has now conserved over 4,500 acres.

The NLT recently completed its first conservation project, the 50 acre Smith Christmas Tree farm in Pelham. This past December the Smith’s permitted NLT to set up a display during Christmas tree sales to promote the cause of conservation in Niagara. This type of cooperation is very similar to that occurring with WNYLC on the American side of the frontier, and provides a clear example of how farmers and rural landowners on the Canadian side of the border can join in with NLT to conserve their land.

Looking forward, there is one notable difference. The rate of urbanization in Southern Ontario is now higher than on the American side, as the metropolitan area of Toronto has continued to expand, pushing up Niagara property values. This makes conservation work more difficult and more urgent as natural areas and farms are being lost at an increasing rate on the Canadian side of the Niagara River.