Reshaping the Landscape

Purple and lavender asters lead the eye to an ancient oak tree dominating the fields.

To the west of the graveled lot north of Seneca Falls sat a large bare hill – Seneca Meadows, the largest active landfill in New York. Many unfamiliar plants surrounded the area, and there were no invasive species in sight. The plants were highly varied, unlike the almost homogeneous abandoned farm fields usually seen in my journeys. Like New York City’s Central Park, this landscape was completely man-made.

I was part of a group whose mission was to gather as much ripened seed as possible during the four hours we were allowed in the wetlands. We all gathered around Frank Morlock of the Department of Environmental Conservation for a quick briefing. He handed us sacks for the seeds and a handout with photos of the sought-after plants. We were split into two teams: one to gather emergent plan seeds, and the other to focus on wet meadow foliage.

Piling into a U.S. Fish and Wildlife pickup, we headed off to our target area. Watching the landscape breeze by, it was hard to imagine that all of this was sculpted from former farmlands.

Seneca Meadows Inc.

Seneca Meadows Inc. (SMI) owns and operates this non-hazardous solid waste facility, managing 6,500 tons of waste per day on average. The company’s dedication to the conservation and protection of the natural environment seems out of place. However, it prides itself on going the extra mile.

The expansion in 2007 into bordering wetlands was unavoidable. Instead of the normal 3:1 ratio required, Seneca Meadows choose to restore more than eight times the amount of wetlands lost – 576 acres to be exact. In addition, in 2009, SMI opened an Environmental Education Center, where it presents environmental-related courses and labs for the area schools and community.

“The Education Center building is gold level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, and houses a laboratory, exhibit room and office space. Environmental features include regionally harvested timber framing, a geothermal heating and cooling system, daylighting controls, and many other earth friendly components,” reads the Seneca Meadows website.

SMI has received numerous awards, including “Seneca County Business of the Year” and the Rochester Business Journal Environmental Leadership Award in 2009.

Creating a wetland preserve

The remarkable landscape that is the Seneca Meadows wetlands today was originally the Dove Farm, and the terrain was formerly used for agricultural purposes. It was relatively flat, and embedded with drainage tiles. Applied Ecological Services (AES), an ecological consulting firm out of Wisconsin, designed and created the wetlands.

“We had to reshape the landscape. We removed the tiles, built up some areas, lowered others, dug ponds, removed trees and created new drainage channels for the various types of wetlands,” explains Ben Zimmerman, one of AES’s restoration ecologists.

The results of their efforts have been astounding. Initial surveys show that prior to creating the Meadows, 71 bird species populated the area. By 2012, 171 identified bird species were present. Peregrine falcons and short-eared owls, both on the New York State Endangered Species list, have been spotted there.

Also onsite are five threatened bird species, two of which were discovered breeding in 2012. A New York State Species of Special Concern, the American Bittern, has also been spotted there. It is one of nine Special Concern species at Seneca Meadows.

Endangered birds aren’t the only animals utilizing the Meadows and its resources. Jefferson and bluespotted salamanders, also New York State Species of Special Concern, inhabit the area as well.

“It’s exciting to see the success of this wetland creation project,” notes Mike McGraw, AES wildlife biologist. “The diverse native vegetation and wetland types offer habitat to a great variety of mammals, amphibians, birds and reptiles, and we expect to see more new species as the site matures.”

In addition to being a great habitat for waterfowl, birds and all kinds of wildlife, Seneca Meadows has seven miles of well-groomed trails suitable for hiking, biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, open to the public from dawn to dusk year-round. For more information, visit senecameadows.com, or call 315-539-5624.


by Phillip Bonn