ash tree fraxinus americana

LITTLE VALLEY — Cattaraugus County will realize nearly $1 million in revenue from the sale of timber at county reforestation areas when the last checks are written.

After funds for the first few sales went directly into the general fund, county lawmakers created a reserve account to accrue those revenues and make improvements to the thousands of acres of county forests.

Now that fund will be capped and used to create another reserve fund dedicated to economic and community development.

The county’s casino-funded economic development fund had been dwindling, even before the Seneca Nation began withholding casino revenue from the state more than two years ago. Now, the reformatted fund includes unexpended casino revenue and timber sale revenues from 2019.

The sponsor is County Legislature Chairman James J. Snyder, R-Olean.

Another resolution states the timber sales will no longer be used to fund the county reforestation fund after Jan. 1, 2019. That means any sales from this year will go directly into the new fund once it is established.

Meanwhile, the existing county forest reserve fund has about $230,000, which would be retained in the account to make improvements to the county forests that would include greater public access and possibly some increased primitive camping opportunities, according to Public Works Committee Chairman Vergilio “Dick” Giardini, D-Allegany.

“I want to make sure the timber reserve is not abolished when it runs out of money,” Giardini said in an interview Friday.

The resolution implementing the changes passed out of committees Wednesday and is on the agenda for the County Legislature’s regular meeting this coming Wednesday afternoon.

“I don’t have a problem helping out these communities,” Giardini said, who noted there was not many county reforestation areas where the ash trees have not been harvested.

He noted Legislator Joseph Snyder, R-Ischua had researched and pushed the plans to remove ash trees from county forests before they fell to the emerald ash borer. The forests had not been actively managed for many years.

The county hired Generations Forestry of Kane, Pa., to inventory the county forests and mark ash and a few other trees for removal. The first bid for a 200-acre section of county forest in Portville was awarded in November 2017. It was for $258,000 for more than 450,000 board feet of ash.

Giardini said that with most ash trees removed from the county forests, there isn’t any policy to generate additional revenue from timber sales.

Giardini said an executive board will review applications and the Public Works Committee will have the final say on funding for economic and community development projects.

He said it could help some of communities fund the removal of blighted homes, or help pay for trails or boat launches.

“Right now, we can’t use that money for anything other than reforestation,” he said. “First we’ve got to change some laws.”

Giardini also hopes to add new signs and improve public access to county reforestation areas, many which include ponds. “Legally, we can’t camp for more than a few days without a pavilion. I think the land belongs to county residents and they should be able to use it. There are thousands of acres.”

The county is finally getting some timber off the properties, most of which were taken for nonpayment of property taxes back in the 1950s and 1960s — after the valuable wood was logged by the owner.

“I want to take some of that money and make it more accessible to the public,” Giardini said.

The first applicant for a $20,000 share of the new community and economic development fund was the Town of East Otto, which is seeking to move its ball field from Swamp Road to adjacent to the Town Hall and expand parking.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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