Becky Robbins introduced Twan Leenders who is the Ecological Restoration Manager of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy. He is a biologist from the Netherlands with a degree in animal ecology and lifelong experience in conservation management. For more than 20 years, his work with birds, mammals, plants and especially tropical amphibians and reptiles has taken him to various places on the planet. As a former researcher at Yale University’s Peabody Museum and other institutions, Twan taught biology at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. He led the Science and Conservation Office of the Connecticut Audubon Society. After nearly 10 years at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, he now applies his expertise to our region with the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy.

Twan has authored two field guides centering on Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rico, both published by Cornell University Press. He is a herpetologist and enthusiastic wildlife photographer with years of field experience in Central America.

Twan began by telling us the CWC has 7 new preserves and 190 acres of critical wetland and floodplain habitat. The Conservancy’s goal is to get more people used to these properties and understanding their comprehensive regional conservation implementation strategy of protecting nature in all the right places.

The Chadakoin River connects with the Cassadaga and Conewango Creeks for wonderful fishing, recreation and 52 navigable miles just idly sitting there waiting for someone to use them. The Chadakoin urban river is clean, doesn’t flood much, it is healthy and of good quality...but the window dressing is not so good. It is important to remember that the River is Chautauqua Lake in linear form. Trees and logs are falling into the river and blocking its flow and Twan shared photos of the river behind Dawson Metal and Hopes Windows.

Last year the City Council and the American Rescue Plan provided funds to clear the river bed of dead trees and stabilize its banks. Work has been done to clean out the river basin near the Board of Public Utilities and the Warner Dam. That work needs to be done now while the Dam is open and the water level is low. It is important to rebuild those river banks and stabilize them near the former Train Station. The Dam will be closed until October and then opened to facilitate the Chautauqua Lake water level in the winter months. 

The Tree of Heaven invasive species was taking over the riverbank. Crews worked to remove over 3500 trees, however 20 of them did not die (the roots exude chemicals fostering regrowth of the tree) so now those must be removed to finish the job. After the trees were removed, the debris was burned at the Firemen’s Training Grounds, to assure the removed Trees of Heaven would not regrow.

Close attention is now being paid to identify the SPOTTED LANTERN FLY which is an invasive species that will also invade grape vines. It has been spotted in Pittsburgh and New York City and excretes sticky goo that turns into black mold, so all are watching for it very closely to avoid it infecting the county’s grapes.

Beavers have been spotted along the shores of the river eating hard woods. When crews come across trees that have been attacked by the beavers, they are protect those trees from further damage by enclosing the trees in chicken wire. 

Crews are also working to remove invasive water chestnut, starry stonewort and brittle naiad especially in the Prendergast Creek, Ashville Bay area. All of this removal takes great planning and collaboration with other nature organizations who also have the equipment and personnel to help keep our local waterways clean and protected.

A fascinating program that is best seen and heard by watching the video.