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One tree stands in Buffalo for almost every four city residents. That's a lot of trees, but room remains for thousands more.

The results of the first major tree inventory in city history show Buffalo has roughly 65,100 trees on city property, excluding parks. Conservation experts say the figure puts Buffalo ahead of its upstate sisters, but not as far ahead as it could be.

"Given the struggles Buffalo has had with its (forestry) program in recent years, that doesn't surprise me," said Andy Pleninger, an urban forestry consultant based in Rochester.

The tree census and accompanying database, now being completed, represent a golden opportunity for positive changes in a city where forestry personnel have operated for decades without having any idea how many trees the city had or what condition they were in.

Initial survey results, which summarize data on the type, age and health of every tree lining city streets, will be discussed at a public meeting Monday.

Buffalo residents have long voiced concerns regarding tree conditions. Many point to safety hazards, while others mention the key role trees play in beautifying a community and mitigating pollution and urban runoff.

Trees have also been a thorn in the side of city leaders, who have shelled out big bucks in recent years for emergency maintenance and removal needs while rarely providing the resources to enable forestry crews to get ahead of the problem.

The city did launch a $2.5 million program in 1999 to trim and remove hundreds of dangerous trees. But City Forester Andrew Rabb said his department still struggles to address residents' complaints. The new survey notes that more than 500 city trees are dead and another 8,100 are in poor condition.

The overall picture, however, is fairly good. Peter Frank, coordinator of the urban community forestry program with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said he was impressed with the diversity and overall health of the city's trees.

"I think the numbers are encouraging," he said.

According to the inventory conducted by the Ohio-based Davey Resource Group over the past six months, Buffalo has 160 species of trees, with the most common types being the Norway maple, littleleaf Linden and silver maple. About 88 percent of all the trees are relatively healthy.

In addition, the city currently has 102,574 spots for planting trees, most between the sidewalks and curbs. Of these available sites, about two-thirds are actually occupied by trees, the survey notes.

"That's an incredibly high figure," said David Colligan, chairman of the Buffalo Green Fund's Reforest Buffalo Committee.

Buffalo has been more fortunate than other upstate cities in preserving its tree population. Cities such as Syracuse and Watertown have suffered from storms that have dramatically depleted their stock.

Rochester also suffered from an ice storm in 1991 that ultimately took down about 14,000 trees. But that storm was the impetus for a comprehensive tree inventory, similar to the one Buffalo has just conducted, and sparked the beginning of a 10-year city forestry effort that has given Rochester nearly as many trees as Buffalo, despite its smaller size.

Rochester's database has been crucial in making sound strategic decisions about its urban forest, said Wendy Ream, the administrative analyst for the city's forestry division. Technicians update the database every day, taking hand-held computers with them out into the field and uploading that information into the main computer.

Compared with Buffalo, which has 64 percent of its tree sites filled, Rochester has 78 percent filled, a tremendous return from its 1991 setback.

Buffalo is in a position to make use of the same powerful tools if it can find the resources to support them.

"It's invaluable," Pleninger said. "Just like managing anything, knowing what you have is the most important thing. Now you have figures that you can use to develop a plan and the budget to maintain that."

The database will give the city the ability to regularly update its tree inventory. Rabb, however, said he doesn't know whether he will be given the money or personnel to manage the database. If not, the $225,000 tool will offer only a snapshot of Buffalo's 2001 tree conditions.

Monday, representatives from the Davey Resource Group, as well as federal, state and local conservation experts, will discuss the preliminary survey results and the opportunities it presents for tackling the city's forestry needs. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m., with presentations starting at 7, in Marcy Casino on Lincoln Parkway across from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.


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