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A Tale of Two Trees - And Some Beavers!

Of course, there are far more than two species of tree in Jamestown, but I want to highlight two types of trees: beneficial native ones and invasive Tree-of-Heaven. Specifically, I want to illustrate how these tree types are connected in a somewhat surprising way – and how their fate impacts our lives and those of our kids.

When Jamestown’s trees turned green this spring, nearly all of the 3,500+ Tree-of Heaven in the Chadakoin River corridor that were injected with herbicide last fall did not. As of this week, a few young saplings that emerged from seed dropped in years past can be seen in the project area, but across the board, almost all the harmful Tree-of-Heaven along the river is now dead and waiting to be removed. Hopefully this will help delay the arrival of the dreaded Spotted Lanternfly, an invasive agricultural pest that is drawn to these particular trees and whose arrival may have a disastrous impact on our grape industry and agriculture.

Once the dead Tree-of-Heaven has been removed, we can start the next phase of restoring the river: re-vegetating its banks with native tree species. It turns out that getting rid of the Tree-of-Heaven is important for a very different – and somewhat surprising – reason. It has to do with beavers!

A beaver’s chisel-like front teeth continue growing throughout their life. The wear and tear caused by chewing on wood each day is what keeps them from growing too long and helps them maintain a sharp cutting edge on their chompers. Beaver populations in western NY have skyrocketed in recent years, and several take up residence in the Chadakoin River at any given time.

Like most other fast-growing trees, Tree-of-Heaven has very soft wood that does not provide much resistance to a gnawing beaver. These trees are therefore ignored and, instead, the Chadakoin River beavers choose to munch on any of the harder trunks they find along the banks – to eat the tree bark and trim back their ever-growing incisors. Unfortunately, the trees that are impacted most by this are the few remaining desirable, older trees that still persist along the river. If a beaver removes too much bark, it can cause infections and disease, sometimes causing the tree to die. Given that some of these trees are several decades old and enormous, losing even one can have a profound effect on the river and our city. As heat records are shattered all over the world these days, it is not difficult to see how losing large, shade-providing trees will increase the temperature of the river water and of our urban environment.

All over the world, heat-traumatized cities are looking to add more trees to the urban landscape to improve living conditions for everyone – including for those who cannot afford air conditioning. Planting new trees is an important next step in improving the environmental resiliency of Jamestown and the Chadakoin River. However, we will not be able to plant 60- or 70-year-old trees. New trees will only be a few years old at best. This means that any tree planted now will take a generation to reach a similar size to those that we are at risk of losing today.

This is an excellent example of why we need to step up our environmental restoration efforts worldwide. If we want to leave our kids a livable environment, we need to take bold action now! Fortunately, our next generation is eager to help with this critically important work, and this past week, more than a dozen Jamestown High School students worked with Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy staff to remove hundreds of small Tree-of-Heaven from the banks of the Chadakoin River to prepare the area for new trees. They also helped wrap the bases of large tree trunks with a layer of metal screen to deter eager beavers from damaging them.

Finding ways to empower young local people to get involved in these types of projects is an important part of the success of the Chadakoin River restoration project. Stay tuned for future updates on our work, and please consider getting involved. Our next generation will thank you for it!

Article and photo by Twan Leenders, Director of Conservation for Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy


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