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September 21, 2016

Buffalo: City of Trees, City of Neighbors

It’s estimated that the value of a single tree over its lifetime is $150,000.

Delaware Park, a short distance away from Canterbury Woods Gates Circle, contains a gorgeous patch of urban forest, and many species are found throughout the park.

Since 2001, the city has maintained a complete urban forest inventory. A survey in 2015 counted 226 species, with maples dominating at 39 percent of the tree stock.

Early in its history, Buffalo was known as the City of Trees. Frederick Law Olmstead’s plan for the city included green canopies across the parkways, avenues and landscaped circles that connected the parks and integrated the park system with the rest of the city. The parkways were lined on both sides by thousands of elm trees so that when you traveled from one park to another, you never felt like you were leaving the serenity of the green space.

Elmwood Village’s Hodge Avenue is lined with large, stately trees, and that’s no accident. The street is named for William Hodge, who owned the city’s first nursery. Along with his son, he supplied many of the city’s elm trees.

Most of the city’s 180,000 elm trees fell victim in the 1960s and 1970s to Dutch elm disease, a fungal disease spread by the elm bark beetle. The beetles were introduced into America from Europe in the 1930s, and within a couple of decades, hundreds of thousands of elm trees were dying. The Northeast and Great Lakes region were especially hard hit. Infestations were treated with DDT sprayed from helicopters, which did little to stop the spread of the disease.

In the 1990s, the city attempted to control infestations of the elm leaf beetle by using chemical pesticides. But Buffalo’s environmentally conscious citizens stepped in and lobbied for less toxic strategies. This led to the creation of the Buffalo Pesticide Management Board.

The urban tree stock suffered another blow on Friday, Oct. 13th 2006. Folks who lived in Buffalo then will never forget that day, when a freak, early snowstorm raged in and dumped more than 2 feet of snow. The storm immobilized the city and knocked out power for days.

The leaves hadn’t yet fallen from most of the trees when the storm hit, which caused the heavy, wet snow to weigh down the branches. The storm snapped tree limbs and caused major damage to nearly all of the city’s trees. Trees were split down the middle; tall trees were reduced to half their size and many were uprooted.

An estimated 30,000 trees were killed in the event, dubbed “Arborgeddon”. About 90 percent of the urban forest was damaged by the storm; about 40 percent of the trees were lost.

The damage was so extensive that the city’s existing tree inventory management system couldn’t cope with it. So the city asked its urban forest specialists to come up with a better way. The result was Urban ForesTREE Management, a digital, GIS-based system that replaced the former paper-based system. Since then, Buffalo’s urban foresters have been able to track the trees on a daily basis.

Another effort that grew out of the storm was Carvings for a Cause, a group of chainsaw artists who carved dead trees into likenesses of public figures important to Buffalo’s history, such as President William McKinley, who was shot by an assassin at the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition; Gov. DeWitt Clinton, father of the Erie Canal; Olmsted; Frank Lloyd Wright; and author Joyce Carol Oates. These woody statues enabled some of Buffalo’s most venerable trees to live on in another form.

The aftermath of the storm demonstrated the accuracy of another of the city’s nicknames, “the City of Good Neighbors.” Neighbors helped each other clear downed branches and fell damaged trees. More than 100 field crews worked for months to clean up the damage, and a volunteer program called Re-Tree Western New York was launched to reforest the city.

Buffalo is aiming once again to be known as the City of Trees and now has strict regulations against cutting down healthy trees, replacing those that must be removed, and conserving trees whenever possible.

Since 2006, more than 28,000 trees have been planted. The reforesting effort is still going on, with hundreds of trees planted this spring.

Groups like the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, CommuniTree and Re-Tree Western New York are helping to restore and maintain the parks and trees.

The CommuniTree Stewards program was started this year to train volunteers to care for the trees planted since 2006 and to help in future plantings. The Buffalo Green Fund helps out by supplying professional tools.

These reforestation programs have helped energize the community and brought residents together. So when you gaze at the trees near Gates Circle, remember that they represent the spirit of Buffalo!

1 Gates Circle | Buffalo, NY 14209 | (716) 929-5817

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