Niagara River Corridor receives international wetlands status

photo of the Niagara River.

Published October 2, 2019

The Niagara River – and pro bono work by University at Buffalo School of Law students – is gaining national prominence as the river and its corridor are named a Wetland of International Importance and part of the Ramsar Convention.

Ramsar designation elevates the river 'on par with the Galapagos and Everglades'

“As someone who has visited many Ramsar sites, participated in international conferences, and researched and published about Ramsar, I can confirm that the Niagara River Corridor is an outstanding site. It is a superb example of importance and excellence.”
Kim Diana Connolly, Vice Dean for Advocacy and Experiential Education
School of Law

An Oct. 3 ceremony will announce the designation, which makes the Niagara River Corridor the 40th Ramsar site in the United States. It joins more than 2,300 wetlands worldwide recognized for their rare habitats, wildlife and biological diversity.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, adopted in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Almost 90 percent of United Nations member states have endorsed it.

The local designation ceremony is at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Top of the Falls Restaurant on Goat Island, Niagara Falls, N.Y. Representatives from the Niagara River Greenway Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University at Buffalo, the Ramsar Site Steering Committee, New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation will attend. Also expected to attend is U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

Thirty-three students in the School of Law’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic invested over 1,450 pro bono hours to perform the legal and policy work required for this Ramsar designation, says Kim Diana Connolly, vice dean for advocacy and experiential education and director of clinical legal education.

“As someone who has visited many Ramsar sites, participated in international conferences, and researched and published about Ramsar, I can confirm that the Niagara River Corridor is an outstanding site,” Connolly says. “It is a superb example of importance and excellence.”

“The designation will help everyone see that the river is one of the most important natural places on Earth, putting our back yard on par with places like the Galapagos Islands and the Everglades,” says Jajean Rose-Burney, deputy executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy and the U.S. co-chair of the binational Niagara River Corridor Ramsar Site Steering Committee. “This was a bottom-up effort, led by individuals and organizations who live and work right here along the river.”

The effort dates from the watershed “Rethinking the Niagara Frontier” initiative of 2001. Led by the School of Architecture and Planning and Ontario’s Waterfront Heritage Trust, the plan reimagined the Niagara River Corridor as a natural heritage resource and spawned a series of ecologically focused tourism, economic development and greenway planning efforts.

Rose-Burney, who worked on these efforts as an urban planning student at UB and a research assistant at its Urban Design Project, praised the students’ work in securing the Ramsar designation. “The UB School of Law’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic and the UB School of Architecture and Planning helped immensely with this work,” she says.

Activists say the Ramsar recognition will help preserve the integrity of the Niagara River and create a healthy shoreline everyone can enjoy.

Gregory Stevens, executive director of the Niagara River Greenway Commission, says the designation is also helpful in restoring the river to health after past industrial pollution.

“Core to the mission of the Niagara River Greenway is the restoration of healthy riparian ecology, and promoting global awareness of the unique importance of the Niagara ecosystem,” Stevens says. “The Ramsar destination will shine a bright light on all the tremendous work under way to restore the health of the mighty Niagara.”