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Logging of county forests debated Legislator proposes establishing parks

Logging operations on Erie County land last year have prompted one county legislator to propose turning 3,153 acres of county forests into county parks.

Legislator Thomas A. Loughran, D-Amherst, said he has been working with environmentalists on drafting the local law, which he feels would add some protection from future timber harvesting.

"I believe these trees are more valuable standing than whatever commercial value they may have," said Loughran, who heads the Legislature's Energy and Environment Committee.

Turning the county forests into county parks might help ensure there wouldn't be a repeat of what happened last October, Loughran said.

That's when a logger working under a contract with the county cut two valuable black cherry trees in the forest four days after being told by Loughran and other legislators to stop cutting.

"They were specifically told, 'Do not cut one more tree,' " Loughran said.

The legislators halted logging after environmentalists lodged complaints about the way a county-authorized timber harvest was handled.

A report by County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz agreed with some of those complaints. The bid was not circulated widely enough, which led to only one bidder, Poloncarz said. He also reported the contract would yield the county less than what was projected.

Loughran's proposal has the backing of one environmentalist who has been very critical of the logging operations, Larry Beahan of the Sierra Club.

"It's a first step in protecting the forest," he said.

But at least one county legislator doesn't think Loughran's proposal is a good one.

Kathy Konst, whose district includes Holland and Sardinia, called Loughran's proposed legislation "a bit of an overreaction without doing the right amount of homework."

She said the law might create "a problem where you have to provide certain levels of maintenance. Under current circumstances in the county, that might become more of a burden than a help."

County Parks Commissioner Angelo J. Sedita also isn't sure the law is a good idea.

"I thought Tom [Loughran] and the committee agreed they were in favor of a forest management plan," he said. "I'm certainly in favor of that."

Sedita said he's not opposed to harvesting timber from the county forests, citing a recent report by the state comptroller criticizing the state Department of Environmental Conservation for not selling more timber off state property.

"There's a lot of forest, and I think there's room to make everybody happy -- preservation areas, recreational areas, areas for management," Sedita said.

Beahan said he's in favor of a forest management plan, too.

He just wants to make sure that such a plan would preclude logging "other than that which would actually improve the forest. I would be against any commercial logging in the park."

e-mail: jbonfatti@buffnews.com

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