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Farmers, loggers, and environmentalists agree

Jan 19, 2011 6:32 am
One of the state's leading environmental organizations, Environmental Advocates, gathered representatives of the timber industry, farmers and other disparate groups to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to restore money to the state's Environmental Protection Fund. The fund pays for a range of activities that benefit farmers and loggers as well as environmentalists and have included such projects benefiting our coverage area as $17.6 million for open space land buys, $1.1 million for fighting invasive species, $12 million for waterfront revitalization, $6.6 million for municipal recycling programs, $10.7 million for farmland protection, and other funds for historic preservation over the years.

A Times Union report notes that with a budget deficit as high as $11 billion looming in the next fiscal year, it's hard to say whether the fund, which this year stands at $134 million, will be restored to $222 million as environmentalists and others want. But the participants at Tuesday's news conference provided a clear illustration of how budget crunches can bring together allies from a wide range of diverse interests.

The EPF was $250 million in the 2007-08 budget year.

"It's very tempting to think about environmental programs, certainly in terms of things that have obvious importance, like making sure our water is clear and our air is safe to breathe ... but these agencies, these programs, do far more than that," said Rob Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates which joined with the loggers and farmers.

For those in the forest products business -- timber cutters, log-home builders, wood pellet makers and others -- cutbacks at the state Department of Conservation as well as in the EPF translate into fewer trees cut and less business.

New York loggers are already cutting considerably less wood on state land that they did a decade ago, noted Eric Carlson, executive director of the Empire State Forest Products Association, one of Tuesday's participants. And with fewer DEC foresters and technicians available to mark trees that can be cut, activity is further reduced.

Ironically, Carlson figured the state is missing out on between $5 million and $10 million a year on logging fees because the trees aren't marked.

Additionally, with a downsized EPF fund there is less money to buy easement rights to timber lands. These rights allow the public to enjoy such forests, even though they are privately owned, and it helps keep the land as a forest rather than, say, making it available for development.

Farmers also benefit from EPF money, often with regard to the development rights to their land. By selling these rights, farmers forego the opportunity to develop their farmland. That can help them afford to continue farming, noted Jeffery Williams, deputy director of public policy for the state Farm Bureau. EPF money also helps fund soil and water conservation experts who advise farmers.

Others who use EPF money include organizations that figure out ways to avoid pollution, and recyclers, both of which have also felt the pinch from a smaller EPF.

"The EPF is critical. It supports organizations such as ours," said Anahita Williamson, director of the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute, which is based at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

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