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Buffalo today takes a long-awaited step to reclaim its once-proud heritage as the "city of trees."

Landscape architect Peter Pasnik was named as the city's new forester, filling a post vacant for the last four years.

Parks Commissioner Daniel T. Durawa called the appointment a "big first step" toward meeting the challenge of a declining urban forest, and Mayor Masiello said Pasnik will help care for a vital element in the city's leafy neighborhoods.

"For us, it's a big deal," Durawa added. "We're inundated with all kinds of tree issues, and we really haven't had a way of responding to the public."

City officials picked the tree-sheltered environs of Symphony Circle for the 11:30 a.m. announcement and invited the public. To make the event, though, Pasnik had to take time out from an already deeply rooted schedule.

For the past month, he and retired city forester Edward Drabek have been going street to street, looking at the city's 200,000 trees and making a list of those needing immediate attention.

"We've been going district by district, tallying all the dead trees," Pasnik said. "There's a lot of storm damage."

With a third of the Council districts still to go, they already have a long list of "worrisome" trees -- about 100 per district -- ranging from 2-inch saplings to 3-foot-wide mature timber.

Dead or severely damaged with cracks, splits or cavities, the trees are targeted for removal before a storm can bring them down.

"We're going to contract some out, and our crew will handle the rest as best we can," Pasnik said.

Once numbering about 50 workers, the city forestry crew now has only five members. City officials are hoping to fill the need by using $400,000 in grants for contract work.

"We (also) will be able to contract out stump removal and so forth," said Durawa, who said many city streets still have stumps that were left behind when scores of trees were cut by crews and volunteers in the wake of a damaging winter storm last year.

Drabek, a 35-year veteran who retired in 1992, has been acting as a
consultant to the city during the years his former post remained vacant. He also has played a large role in the current survey effort.

"How do you combine 35 years of experience into a new guy?" Durawa asked. "It's a challenge, but I'm really convinced we found the absolutely best guy for it."

"He's been very, very helpful," Pasnik agreed.

Parks Department worker Bob Kot, a 30-year veteran nearly killed in a freak tree-cutting accident in Cazenovia Park late in 1994, also has returned to a desk job helping coordinate forestry work, Durawa said.

Pasnik will have a slightly smaller domain to supervise, since the city loses an estimated 4,000 trees a year. Replanting programs haven't kept pace with tree deaths in a time of drastically pruned city budgets.

Problems from species selections to pesticide use and insect infestations also will confront the new forester, who is responsible for neighborhood trees, downtown plantings and the greenery in the Olmsted-designed system of parks and parkways. Pasnik also will oversee computerization of city tree records and inventories, using programs designed last summer by local high school students.

Pasnik, a Hamburg resident, is a graduate of the forestry school at the state university in Syracuse and has experience directing commercial nursery crews. He takes the $35,455 job as a two-year temporary appointment, until the next scheduled Civil Service forester examination in 1998.

The last time the test was given, in 1994, three persons applied and one passed. But the city didn't fill the vacant post, and the successful test-taker -- a Buffalo city forestry crew chief -- retired.

When the city advertised the job, Durawa said, resumes were submitted by 23 applicants from as far away as North Carolina. Seven were interviewed by Durawa and Drabek, and two finalists were interviewed by the city's Pesticide Management Board.

"The search was quite extensive," Durawa said.

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