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Student Sustainability Spotlight: Jacob Leale

Hello UB! I hope you all had a great spring break and are transitioning back into classes well, the rest of the semester is sure to fly by! First, I would like to thank you all again for reading my blog, and I appreciate the responses I have received from many of you through email and in person. And of course, a big thank you to Campus Dining and Shops for giving me the opportunity to reach out the UB community in such a manner. This week, I would like to highlight a sustainability project that one of our very own, a twenty-one year old Environmental Geosciences major, Jacob Leale, is in the process of developing.

We are all familiar with Lake LaSalle, the sixty acre lake built by the University at Buffalo in 1970 as a means to control water runoff and prevent floods. It is one of the many aspects of the university that makes it such a unique and enjoyable place to live and work. Jacob has recognized the historic utility and environmental value of this landmark and is in the process of designing and proposing the implementation of a riparian buffer zone. The goal of his project is to fashion a salubrious environment for humanity and nature to coexist and for students to have an opportunity to learn about the issues that the human development of land has raised in terms of environmental welfare. In his own words, “To truly learn is to actively demonstrate that which is taken away from the classroom.”

Riparian buffer zones are vegetated areas next to water resources that protect the water and its plant and animal life from non-point source pollution (caused by rainfall or snow-melt running over and through the ground, bringing pollutants with it), while also providing bank stabilization. The riparian zone is a three-tier system consisting of a layer of shrubbery along the lake bed, followed by a row of various types of trees set back a few yards from the bushes, and finally a blanket of reeds and other tall, grass-like plants. Studies of riparian zones show that as riparian vegetation is removed, water temperatures increase and oxygen levels decrease in a process referred to as eutrophication which decreases the viability of the aquatic system.

In choosing the types of plants Jacob would like to utilize, he has been thinking in terms of permaculture and therefore locally indigenous plants have been his focus. Shrubs like buttonbush, which are great for pollinators, and Grey Dogwood which adapts well to difficult sites and is used for slope stabilization, combat the problems Jacob has identified from multiple angles. Some options for second layer trees include Red Maple, a pollution tolerant indigenous tree with beautiful red autumn foliage and the River Birch, a species which thrives in wet environments and would provide excellent an contrast with its yellow autumn foliage. In terms of grasses, which would be closest to the road, Jacob hopes to plant species such as Switchgrass and Virginia Wild Rye which will provide the needed buffer in their root systems to prevent road pollutants like salt and oil from making it to the lake. Switchgrass also transitions from a bright green stem to a yellow stem in the fall, and Virginia Wild Rye from silvery to blue.

Am I painting a quality picture for you? This project would transform the lake in terms of beauty, cleanliness and its ability to sustain wildlife. Jacob foresees a future where the lake is healthy enough to attract and sustain songbirds, waterfowl, turtles and amphibians. Surrounded by flowering trees, shrubs and grasses our school would provide yet another quality location for pollinators to do their work. Not only would the wildlife thrive, but students and faculty would have a cleaner and safer lake to kayak on, and could potentially be able to eat fruit right off of our own UB trees!

As I mentioned before, the riparian buffer zone project is still in the design stage, with a proposal intended to formally take place later in the semester. But from my conversation with Mr. Leale, it is certain to me that this is something he is passionate about, and that he will continue to work towards for the benefit of our local ecosystem and the university he calls home. If you would like to contribute ideas, volunteer time to his project, or would simply like more information, Jacob invites you to email him at,

As always, thank you for reading! If you have a student led sustainability project that you would like for me to write about in the future, please reach out to me!

-Eric Shaver
Student Sustainability Coordinator UB-CDS
Cultural Anthropology B.A. (In-Progress)
Vice President, UB Campus Garden Club

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