Buffalo has been cutting down twice as many trees as it plants in recent years. It plans on cutting down more than three times as many as it plants under Mayor Byron Brown’s proposed budget.
Investigative Post reported last year on the slow deforestation of the city, particularly on the East Side, where some neighborhoods are losing four trees for every one planted.
“By removing those street trees, and even planting smaller street trees, we’re going to run into the problem of creating more and more heat, more and more temperature increases,” said Nick Henshue, assistant professor of ecology at the University at Buffalo.
Trees can not only be cooling, but help cleanse the air of pollutants and reduce incidences of asthma and other respiratory diseases, as well as cardiovascular and psychological disorders. They can also absorb groundwater after storms, and increase property values by improving aesthetics.
Nevertheless, the mayor’s proposed budget calls for the removal of 1,000 trees in the coming fiscal year and the planting of 300. Proposed spending for the forestry department is $896,601, in line with previous budgets.
Why no increase?
Andrew Rabb, the city’s deputy commissioner for parks and recreation, did not respond to inquiries from Investigative Post. He was, however, questioned earlier this week by Fillmore Common Council Member Mitch Nowakowski during a budget workshop.
“Do we have a larger city view of buying and planting more trees, just as a general rule of thumb, since there’s so many benefits to them?” Nowakowski asked.
Rabb said the city plans to apply for federal money — “up to $50 million” — to bolster tree-planting efforts. Rabb said the application is due June 1. The grant is competitive and there are no assurances the city will receive funding available under the Inflation Reduction Act.
“We’re aggressively going after the federal grant to speed up and increase our tree-planting efforts citywide, with a focus on economic justice areas,” Rabb said.
He added there are more than 30,000 vacant tree-planting areas in the city’s economic justice areas alone.
“There’s a huge effort that we need to be taking just to get appropriate spaces treated,” Rabb said.
Nowakowski, noting the availability of federal funds, told Investigative Post in October that he intended to come up with a plan.
“I have my homework cut out for me to really get ahead of the eight-ball to start really coming up with a plan,” he said at the time.
Nowakowski did not mention a plan during the Council’s budget workshop this week.
The Council is scheduled to send budget amendments to the mayor next week. The City Charter requires adoption of a budget the first week in June, which will take effect July 1.
The Council actually cut proposed funding for the forestry department in four of the last six budget years.
The pace of tree planting has slowed in recent years.
The city planted 1,428 trees during the 2015-16 fiscal year, 1,063 the following year. Since then, plantings have ranged from 479 to 239 annually.
Put another way: In the past five years, the city has cut down 4,646 trees and planted 1,728.
Our original story from July 2022
An Investigative Post analysis last year found overall tree loss between 2016 and 2020 was greatest in areas of the East Side. Masten and Fillmore districts lost the most. The North and Niagara districts lost the fewest trees, averaging close to the citywide rate of two trees removed for every one planted.
The situation “is one of the most despicable things that I can imagine because of the relationship of a green infrastructure, especially a tree canopy, to health outcomes,” Henry Taylor, director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo, told Investigative Post last year.
Henshue, the UB ecology professor, said: “I can’t list just five bullet points of the best things that trees do for people. But imagine these disenfranchised communities having just that little bit of extra bump if there’s a better health benefit.
“What happens when our neighborhoods can actually help make us healthier?”