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Two Democrats see GOP budget cuts hurting effort to control ash borer

Their news conference centered on a tiny bug wreaking havoc on New York's ash trees and its forest-products industry.

But the point that Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul wanted to make Monday at the Crawford Furniture showroom in Amherst proved much larger: Republican budget cutting will wipe out federal programs like controlling the emerald ash borer that could threaten many of New York's 50,000 forest-industry jobs.

"This sheds a spotlight on what goes on in Washington," said Hochul, a Hamburg Democrat starting her second month in office. "People on the floor [of the House] say slash, slash, slash without regard for consequences. That's shortsighted and what I have found in my very brief tenure in Washington already."

Schumer, D-N.Y., expanded on the views of his congressional colleague by promising to fight House GOP efforts to roll back programs that target the emerald ash borer and other invasive species. "You just don't use a meat ax," he said. "You use a sharp, smart scalpel that leaves this program intact."

The Democratic lawmakers joined several Crawford Furniture officials and representatives of the Western New York forest-products industry to underscore the threat that the tiny invader from China poses to the region's 70 million ash trees -- a staple of the state's hardwood industry.

The emerald ash borer already has decimated ash populations in 13 Midwestern states. It was discovered in New York in 2009 in Cattaraugus County. Schumer said Monday that the pest has now spread eastward to the Hudson River and that wood products from 18 New York counties are under quarantine. Earlier this month, the bug was discovered in 12 trees in Buffalo's South Park.

The beetle bores into the trunks of ash trees and disrupts the tree's ability to draw water and nutrients through its roots, posing a major threat to trees that occupy a significant niche in the state's hardwood production.

"Their proliferation poses a significant economic and ecological threat to businesses like Crawford [which manufactures and sells furniture]," Schumer said.

"Don't let [the bug's] looks and size deceive you," he added. "It's destructive."

Schumer and Hochul joined forces to criticize Republican efforts to slash by $73 million the budget of the Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, which includes a $37 million cut to the plant health program, while slicing $354 million from agriculture research programs. The cuts would leave $790 million in appropriations for the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.

Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, supports the cuts to agricultural spending. Reed spokesman Tim Kolpien called the reductions a relatively small hit to the Department of Agriculture.

"Difficult spending decisions have to be made in the midst of our debt-driven crisis," Kolpien said. "APHIS will have to prioritize and get by on $790 million -- it's the financial reality we live in when we are borrowing $58,000 per second."

Schumer said the cuts would provide short-term savings but ultimately make little sense in the face of invasive species that could have a devastating economic effect on upstate New York.

"At a time when people have a rough time getting jobs, this is very, very bad timing," the senator said, adding he is optimistic that government can find a way to stop the ash borer invasion if "we get there on time."

He cited several research projects aiming to introduce natural predators such as wasps to the ash borer environment. He questioned what progress can be made without any government funding.

"I will lead a fight in the Senate to restore this money," he said, rating the chance of success "decent."

News Staff Reporter Jake Bolitho contributed to this report.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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