Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra, a self-professed "city boy," went to the Town of Holland on Monday to take a look at a logging program expected to make money for the county -- using Amish horse teams.
The logging program includes thinning woodlands as part of the county's first management plan for its approximately 3,500 acres of forest. Loggers have been cutting on Forestry Lot 7 in Holland for about two weeks.
"This is a city boy talking about forest," Giambra said. "But I've been told it has been neglected too long -- that the canopy is too thick and doesn't allow light to reach the floor. It is literally killing parts of the forest, preventing new growth from occurring."
That's a point that is still disputed by some environmentalists, as it was when the management plan was created three years ago.
"[Giambra] has been fed a line of bull by some timber-extraction people," said Lawrence T. Beahan, who specializes in forestry issues on the Niagara Group executive committee of the Sierra Club.
"They're saying, 'We're just going to nurture this forest along.' It is a forest products-extraction plan. We have the beautiful high forest canopy of a maturing forest, and it is natural in a maturing forest. What they're saying is, this is not an ideal forest to use as a tree farm; a tree farm, you want to get plenty of light down there."
The differences of opinion demonstrate the continuing debate in environmental circles about how, or how much, to manage forests.
Erie County Forester Brian Grassia said that when the county's Forestry Division was created in 1927, it was with the intention of selling forest products to help reduce taxes.
"If we do this right, and we will, we can manage these forest and derive benefits to the taxpayers for many years to come," Grassia said. "We want to enhance the ecological conditions, we want to increase the economic benefit, and we've already increased educational opportunities.
"Our management is also going to open up a little more recreational opportunities, doing better maintenance on trails and possibly creating some new trails."
The management plan was prepared in large part by Earth Spirit, the environmental group known to many Western New Yorkers for its educational presentations to both adults and youth groups. Earth Spirit is also a partner with Erie County and the University at Buffalo in the Woodlands Environmental Educational Center in Sardinia.
The management plan calls for sustainable forestry that includes logging, an idea endorsed by Audubon New York in a report on hardwood forests last year. Others argue for letting forests manage themselves naturally, without timbering.
Hillview Logging of Holland is cutting in Lot 7 in Holland. It's using Amish horse teams to minimize damage to the forest floor.
The management plan for Lot 7, a 76-acre area, calls for removing trees ranging from sapling to mature as a thinning measure. Hillview is cutting hard maples because maple is at a high selling price, Grassia said.
Julie A. Broyles, an activist who has been involved with the J.N. Adams forest situation in Perrysburg, said she was disappointed to hear that the county was doing commercial logging.
"What county representatives said during the public comment period on the plan was that the logging would only be for the needs of the county to have wood, so the county wouldn't have to expend money to buy wood," Broyles said.
Giambra said, "We're going to be more sensitive to making sure damage is not done in this process."
The county executive said wood will be auctioned off this week, with the county expecting to receive $70,000 to $100,000 in income.
He said the income from the logging will go -- as legally required -- to the county's general fund.
A "conservative" estimate on the income from the wood was included in the county's four-year budget projection, he said.
Thus far, Grassia said, about 50,000 board feet of wood has been cut.