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Efforts to save open space, keep wildlife habitats and expand parks will grow from 90 to 123 "priority projects" under proposals for a revised state Open Space Plan now under review.

Set for adoption next year and bolstered by new bond act funding, the plan includes more than two dozen projects in Western New York.

Added this year are recommendations for public-access work on the Buffalo River, wildlife-habitat protection on Motor Island in the Niagara River and protection of the DeVeaux Woods, an old-growth stand in Niagara Falls.

The proposal is a required three-year update of the Open Space Plan first adopted in 1992. Statewide hearings, including one in Blasdell, were held Dec. 9 and 10.

"The Open Space Plan helps ensure that the state works cooperatively with landowners, governments and non-profit organizations to conserve our common outdoor heritage," Gov. Pataki said.

Under the plan, the state already has spent $123 million on projects ranging from Pine Barrens protection on Long Island to the purchase of Woodlawn Beach here for development as the first new state park in decades.

This year's expanded version -- expected to draw on $150 million in new funding from the 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act as well as an annual $30 million contribution from the Environmental Protection Fund -- used recommendations from local advisory committees to expand the list of projects.

Over the next five years, New York State has about $450 million potentially available for land acquisition from both the Bond Act and the Environmental Protection Fund.

The Buffalo-based committee, covering six Western New York counties, submitted a list of 26 projects, some of them carry-overs from past priority lists.

Included among the plan recommendations:

Existing "priority projects," including Lake Erie, Niagara River and Chautauqua Lake access, Allegany State Park, the multicounty Genesee Valley Greenway, Rattlesnake Hill Wildlife Management Area in Allegany County, a Canadaway Creek Gorge greenway and habitat work on French Creek and Randolph Swamp.

A "substitution priority project," following the completion of the Woodlawn Beach purchase, of parkland acquisition on the historic Carter Farm, one of the last open agricultural approaches to Fort Niagara State Park.

The "additional priority projects" for Buffalo River access, DeVeaux Woods acquisition and Motor Island protection.

Fourteen smaller projects involving trailways, watershed protection, wildlife habitat, parklands, such unique areas as the Chautauqua Gorge and Connoisarauley Falls in Cattaraugus County and recreational development along the Erie Canal route.

Areas in the smaller projects include Allegany County trails, Cattaraugus Creek and its tributaries, the Chautauqua Lake Outlet, Cages Gulf and the Twenty Mile Creek Gorge in Chautauqua County, Tifft Farm wetlands, Ellicott Creek, Tonawanda Creek and Niagara County's Bullhead Point, Dolds Hills, and the Cook and Everett farms.

The Rochester-based regional committee, which includes Orleans and Genesee counties, recommended protection of the 2,300-acre Bergen Swamp, a Genesee County wetland that includes 40 species of rare, threatened or endangered plant species as well as the endangered massasauga rattlesnake.

More than 1,600 acres of the swamp is owned by the Bergen Swamp Preservation Society, but the committee recommended completing protective ownership of core areas and buying some bordering "buffer zones" to protect the swamp from residential development.

The committee also recommended purchase of three lots, now for sale, that would consolidate state holdings in the Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management areas on the Genesee, Orleans and Niagara County borders.

Despite the long list of Western New York projects, the Buffalo-based committee provided some of the least documentation in the draft report. Scheduling problems, short deadlines and "confusion and poor communication" were cited as reasons for development of what the committee described as "preliminary" concerns.

The local committee raised issues of tax impacts on Southern Tier counties with vast state land holdings, inadequate management and maintenance of state lands, and limited funding for state-defined "small projects."

Committee members also noted growing local concern over open- space issues and over the upstate-downstate distribution of funding.

The plan, though, has drawn widespread support from environmental and conservation groups statewide -- although such groups as the National Audubon Society and Adirondack Council oppose such specific provisions as a proposal to study the lifting of state restrictions on the sale or transfer of public land within the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves.

Previous state Open Space Plan funding helped buy part of the Whitney Estate in the heart of Adirondack State Park, protect the key midstate Native American village known as the Ganondagan State Historic Site, add 900 acres to the Department of Environmental Conservation's Northern Montezuma Wetlands Wildlife Management Area in Wayne County, launch a cross-state Canal Recreationway Plan and aid development of the Genesee Valley Greenway between Rochester and Letchworth State Park.

In Western New York, projects identified in the Open Space Plan have included work with the Nature Conservancy, local governments and land owners to preserve stream habitats in the Alder Bottom-French Creek system in southern Chautauqua County.

"Small Projects" efforts -- under 200 acres and $250,000 -- include work on Ischua and Conewango creeks in Cattaraugus County, Wiscoy and East Koy creeks in Wyoming County, Oak Orchard Creek in Orleans County and Black Creek in Genesee and Monroe counties. The plan also supported designation of the Niagara River as an international "Important Bird Area" by the Audubon Society.

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