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Tree restoration needs expertise Storm damage highlights importance of finding best possible city forester

The October Surprise storm now may be a few months behind us, but for Buffalo residents who wondered why certain trees were being felled, it still sheds light on the city's need for a qualified, professional urban forester.

As the storm demonstrated, a budget-driven vacancy in the city forester post was a risk for the health of Buffalo's trees and for public safety. Currently, a county appointee now fills that post. Officials say he is qualified for the job, but some experts in the field question that assertion.

When the city created a forester position, officials put together a qualification list that would require the forester to be a true professional. That meant, among other requirements, training and education in the form of a four-year degree from a forestry school or an arborist degree with two years' experience in business. It was the basis by which the last two foresters were selected.

Once the city and county parks merger occurred, the city forester went over to the county. About a year ago, forester Andrew Raab left to take a job as the chief forester in Brooklyn. The county filled the job with a parks superintendent. County Parks Commissioner Andy Sedita says that, to his knowledge, that person is qualified. But Raab still was called back in for professional assistance during the October storm.

Absent unqualified assertions that the current forester meets the original city professional standards for the job, efforts to restore Buffalo's storied and tree-rich landscape may not be getting the best support from government. In light of the horrific damage inflicted by weather in October, the urban forestry post needs to be held by a top-notch specialist who can identify needs as well as tree damage, ensure top performance from hired contractors, implement and improve the city's tree management plan and win the resources to restore as much of the natural environment as possible.

That person may be the current fill-in appointee -- public proof of qualifications would be welcome -- but it may well require a wider search for a certified arborist. Taxpayers paying the forester's salary deserve assurance that the post was not filled just by shuffling parks department supervisory responsibilities.

Barring the most logical solution of simply hiring a highly qualified city forester, the position should be carved out of the parks agreement and the city should be repaid the money. That would require an amendment to the agreement, either a memorandum of understanding or a change order. But nature has vaulted this job to prominence, and made filling it a prominent challenge.

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