One thousand dead trees and a withered budget might stump any city forester, especially one just getting started on the job.
But Peter Pasnik, Buffalo forester, is ready to branch out.
"Take the dead ones down, immediately," is his prescription for the ailing forest spread throughout the city's streets and parks.
After that, it's a matter of working with volunteer groups to stretch the city's tree budget as far as it can reach, in an effort to replant and restore Buffalo's once-national reputation for greenery.
In a few days, commercial contractors hired with a special city grant will start cutting down 200 of the city's 1,000 dead trees. The city's own forestry crew, which once numbered 50 workers but now counts only five, will be getting some much-needed new equipment.
Restoring Buffalo to its former role as the nation's "City of Trees," Pasnik admits, will be a slow process in an era dominated by the budget ax.
Buffalo has been replanting only about half as many trees as it loses each year.
"It's going to take a few years to turn that trend around," Pasnik said.
The slow erosion, following the blight that killed off most of the city's 185,000 American elm trees in the 1960s, already has taken a toll. Buffalo now has an estimated 160,000 trees of 130 different species, but the numbers are far from the 300,000 or so trees that once graced city streets.
Pasnik, who took over last October after the post had been vacant for four years, said Edward S. Drabek, the former city forester, did a complete survey of South Buffalo's trees a few years ago and found about 3,000 vacant tree-planting spaces.
So far, South Buffalo is the only one of the city's nine Council districts to be completely surveyed. But if its empty tree sites are typical, Pasnik noted, the cost of filling all of them could be conservatively estimated at $8 million.
Help, though, is on the horizon:
Volunteer groups have pitched in to help, planting nearly 100 trees in recent months through such efforts as the "Green Street Project" of the Black Rock-Riverside Neighborhood Housing Services and neighborhood activist Kevin Cunningham's Elmwood Avenue Tree Benefits.
Buffalo's $150,000 forestry budget has been boosted this year by $300,000 in bond-issue funding, through the efforts of North Council Member Dale L. Zuchlewski, that lets the city call in commercial contractors for tree removal.
New computer software, including some being considered by the city, is making it easier for foresters to inventory trees and tree sites, pick species that won't interfere with such site restrictions as power lines and track tree maintenance needs.
A renewed emphasis also has been put on the value of urban "green space," for beauty as well as energy conservation and pollution buffering.
"We're planting more trees," Mayor Masiello recently told the Erie County League of Conservation Voters.
"That's sort of a pet thing of my own," he added. "I love trees; I really think they add to the overall ambience and quality of life in our city."
The trend is region-wide. Cheektowaga will plant 450 trees this year, and both Jamestown and Olean are among the 60 New York municipalities receiving "Tree City" awards for last year -- for, among other things, spending about $2 per resident on tree-related programs.'
The Erie County Soil and Water Conservation District also has been planting 11,000 trees -- including 10,000 provided by the National Tree Trust -- throughout the county to halt stream bank erosion, act as living snow fences and beautify landscapes. AmeriCorps workers and Earth Trust volunteers have aided the effort.
Regaining lost federal and state funding could be key to sustaining the momentum, said Nancy Wolf of New York ReLeaf during a statewide conference at Cornell University this month.
For a cash-strapped city with urgent needs in other areas, local tree funding is a hurdle.
Donations and volunteer efforts help, but this year's major boost came when Zuchlewski told Parks Commissioner Daniel T. Durawa he was willing to share a district grant to help with forestry work citywide. Two years ago, buffalo was in line for a major $500,000 boost from a $15 million national tree-planting program run by the Small Business Administration. But that program was killed when Republicans in a cost-trimming mood took control of Congress.
An aide to Rep. John J. LaFalce, the Town of Tonawanda Democrat who moved from chairman to minority leader of the House Small Business Committee as power shifted, said the program is unlikely to be resurrected soon.
ReLeaf, a program stemming from the 1990 Farm Bill, does spend $500,000 a year in the state to link professional and volunteer efforts. That's about what experts estimate would be needed by Buffalo alone, to maintain its "urban forest" properly.
The House of Representatives, though, has approved allocating $26.75 million to urban forestry projects, Ms. Wolf said. The Senate has yet to vote on the bill.
"National funds are not intended to replace state program dollars," warned Robert Neville of the U.S. Forest Service, which is setting new standards for state urban forestry programs.
The standards will require both a state program coordinator and a volunteer coordinator, strategic planning and a guiding council. Funds for tree-planting will be limited, and education programs will be "an extremely important component," he added.
"It's not intended to be a planting program," Neville said. "It's intended to address urban issues."