The people of Erie County own about 3,500 acres of excellent 80- to-100-year-old-forest. Our Forestry Department has taken County Executive Joel Giambra in with the mistaken argument that those hilly, wooded acres of ours are more valuable as a cash timber crop than for soil conservation, animal habitat and recreation.
Criticizing reasoning like that is consistent with the Feb. 16 News editorial criticizing the county's addiction to oneshot, quick-fix money, $848 million of it since 1999. But cut down a forest and you don't just have debt. You have lost all the benefits that forest provided. Its water purification and flood control, its animal and plant habitat, its hiking trails won't be back for another hundred years.
These forested hills, green in summer, white in winter, are a major Erie County asset. They are an essential part of what draws people to live here.
The other day I hiked through the forest shambles where The News photographed Giambra behind a team of horses. Instead of the sustainable forestry that was advertised, I found stumps; virtually every hardwood tree over 20 inches in diameter has been cut down. The forest floor is churned to mud where horses dragged tree trunks, sometimes directly across small streams, pouring silt into Buffalo Creek. Two hundred saw-logs line the expensive new gravel road like so many coffins.
Earth Spirit, an organization that occupies quarters in our forest, and a commercial logger will share 32 percent of whatever cash comes in. An estimated $50,000 of our FEMA money went to build the gravel road. The salaries of our forester and our county executive, hired to protect our forest, should be figured into this deal, too. There won't be a whole lot of cash coming to us for our sacrifice.
In the spring of 2004 the Parks Department called a public meeting to introduce its logging plan to the citizens of Erie County. We reviewed it carefully. I personally sent it to four experts in forest ecology. They all agreed that it was a timber extraction plan with very little regard for sustainability, despite its claims of environmental sensitivity.
Four organizations banded together to ask that it be revised - the Audubon Society, Foothills Trail Club, Adirondack Mountain Club and Sierra Club. We made our concerns known and were told that the plan would be revised and that we would have a chance to review it before they started chopping.
That never happened. The next thing we heard was that all the sugar maple in our county forest at Route 16 and South Protection Road was on the ground ready for sale. There was no prior public announcement and no opportunity for public input.
The State Environmental Quality Review Act was avoided by a declaration that this massive destruction of forest would have no negative environmental impact. We met with County Legislator Tom Laughlin's Environment Committee Thursday to try to persuade them that the rest of our 3,500-acre forest heritage should not be scalped.
Larry Beahan of Amherst is forestry chair of the Sierra Club's Niagara Group.