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Re-Tree WNY celebrates early success

Hundreds attended a benefit party Saturday to aid Re-Tree WNY and honor key people in the organization's planting success since the devastating October 2006 snowstorm.

Earlier in the day, during a Re-Tree WNY symposium, government experts and arborists warned of another grave threat to local trees -- a tree-eating beetle now destroying ash trees primarily across the Midwest but almost certain to reach Western New York.

However, in First Presbyterian Church of Buffalo, Paul Maurer, chairman of Re-Tree WNY, celebrated the organization that quickly came together in tragedy to plant 5,500 trees, with another 2,600 planned in November. The total of 8,100 trees brings it closer to the goal of 30,000 trees over a five-year period.

"I'm real happy with how things are going. We have a lot of local support -- 1,000 volunteers -- and we are going to need a lot of them for the Nov. 8 planting," Maurer said.

Honored at the party were founding Co-Chairman David J. Colligan, an attorney who is head of the Buffalo Olmsted Conservancy's board of trustees, and Buffalo News Publisher Stanford Lipsey and his wife, Judith, for launching The Buffalo News Green Leaf Campaign.

Colligan gave credit to the collective action shown by the community, praising "an army of individuals who have joined together to attack a problem that is solvable but requires strategy, execution and sustained effort."

The Lipseys' matching grant helped contributions from the newspaper's readers to reach more than $350,000 in 100 days. Local businesses and members of the business community also responded by contributing more than $150,000 to the $540,000 total raised.

"I called 11 of my friends in the business community with corporations that could afford to give, and I got $100,000," said Lipsey, who deflected credit to others at The News and in the community.

He added, "What Re-Tree has done is just magnificent."

The focus at the symposium was squarely on the threat posed to ash trees, which make up to 25 percent of Western New York's tree canopy, by the emerald ash borer, a metallic green beetle native to Asia.

Since being discovered in the United States, in southeastern Michigan, in June 2002, the beetle has spread across 10 mostly Midwest states, inflicting massive damage on ash trees in urban and wild forests.

"So far there is no resistance at all," said Mark Whitmore, extension associate with the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University.

He said that, as yet, there are as no proven methods to save ash trees once they are infested.

"There are chemicals that can be used, but right now the jury is out as far as I can tell as to how effective they are," Whitmore said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has banned importing firewood beyond a 50-mile radius to keep the beetle out, saying it is the most important preventive measure that can be taken.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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