September 15, 2008

Law Honors Area Environmentalist

By Fred O. Williams

Gov. David A. Paterson has enacted a law named for Buffalo-area environmentalist Bruce Kershner that protects old-growth forests, a cause that Kershner championed before his death last year.

The Bruce S. Kershner Heritage Tree Preservation and Protection Act protects forests on state land that are more than 180 years old, adding them to lands in the state Nature and Historical Preserve.

A proposal to extend the protection on private land by giving tax credits to landowners was dropped from the final bill because of costs.

However, supporters said the measure is a fitting tribute to Kershner, who discovered primeval forests around Western New York, including ancient stands of trees in Zoar Valley.

"My father definitely would have been ecstatic," said Kershner's son Joshua, a law student in New York City. "This is the continuation of a lot of his work."

The law bearing his father's name ensures that future generations will be able to enjoy and study ecosystems that were in place before Columbus' arrival, Joshua Kershner said.

State Sen. Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville, and Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, sponsored the measure.

"In addition to providing a link to our past, these trees represent an important part of our future," Rath said in a statement. "From a tourism standpoint, people are attracted to these forests and the beauty and sense of wonder they inspire."

It's estimated that 400,000 acres of old-growth forest remain in the state, chiefly in the Adirondacks. Some were identified by Kershner, an Amherst resident whose 12 books include "The Sierra Club Guide to the Ancient Forests of the Northeast."

While forests within some state parks already are protected, the preservation law means that no logging on state lands will touch old- growth forests, said Michael Hettler, counsel for Rath. As more ancient forests are discovered, they will be added to the protected list.

Protected forests must be at least 10 acres large and have trees of mature-forest species that are older than 180 to 200 years.

While other states have moved to protect defined areas, New York is the first to issue a blanket protection for old-growth forests, Hettler said. The measure also allows local governments to designate old-growth forests.

"As far as I'm aware, it's the first [such] law in the country," he said.

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Originally published by NEWS STAFF REPORTER.

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