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Photo by Mel Hunt

Aerial Combat Over Wellsville Signals A Healthy River

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The war over fishing rights continues in the Genesee River valley, and this war started long before the valley was settled. For generations, these high speed fighters would stake out territory and patrol for the enemy. This might seem like a new phenomena for Wellsville, but the reality is, this is a reclaiming of home after a long time away.

Both bald eagle and osprey largely depend on fish and aquatic mammals like muskrats. For most of my life, and my parents life, these species of raptor didn’t fish or breed on the Genesee River. The reasons are pretty clear: Pollution levels were so high that the fishermen either died or relocated, for about sixty years. After the massive 1938 Sinclair Refinery fire in Wellsville, the river was badly polluted from Wiedrick Road and miles north of Wellsville.

Even after that massive eco-catastrophe, the liberal use of a infamous insecticide, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, aka DDT, and its successors created a toxic runoff into gully streams then into the river. That destructive chemical wasn’t banned from agricultural use until 1972. Although banned, stockpiles of that and other unused and now-banned chemicals, have killed bald eagles in Wellsville in recent history.

The Sinclair Site

Fast forward two generations and the natural world has gradually recovered, with the help of the species who wrecked the ecosystem in the first place. Atlantic Richfield, a subsidiary of British Petroleum, conducted a multi-year project that built a series of remediation ponds on the site of the Sinclair disaster. There has been other efforts to remove the toxic materials and they are well documented here: https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.cleanup&id=0202093

The efforts have paid off and these pictures are proof of improving water quality. Food sources for these great birds are now both plentiful and they sustain life once again. After decades, the war resumes!!

Last year the fight was, like these images, majestic, but full of tragedy and drama. The eagles prevailed and raised two young birds successfully, the osprey were victims of the eagles. What will happen this year is still unknown as both raptors have nests in the Wellsville area that are just about to hatch……. Stay tuned!!


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