Dozens of volunteers armed with seedlings, shovels and hoes will fan out today in Delaware and Martin Luther King Jr. parks to begin replacing nearly 400 trees in the city's historic Olmsted Parks system that were destroyed by October's freak snowstorm.
Earlier this week, crews began planting a similar number on Buffalo streets.
These are the first steps in a multiyear reforestation that shapes up as easily the largest in city history. Efforts to replant outlying areas that suffered heavy damage also will get under way soon.
Because the devastation of Buffalo greenery has spurred an outpouring of private contributions, and produced hundreds of new volunteers, the city's long-term reforestation plan may not be delayed for as long as first thought, said tree activist David J. Colligan.
Under a 2003 master plan developed by the Buffalo Green Fund and City Hall, the number of trees lining streets and shading parks and other green spaces eventually will reach 88,400 -- or roughly 85 percent of the canopy that existed before disease ravaged the city's American elms in the early 1960s.
Since 1965, when the tree count reached its low point, new trees had been going in at a rate of about 1,000 a year. When the storm hit, the reforestation was "about two-thirds" accomplished, Colligan said.
After three years of "deferred maintenance," in which 15,000 dead or dying trees were removed, the program was expected to kick into high gear this year. Then came the "October surprise," which fatally damaged 7,400 trees.
"In theory, it would have taken 10 years" to reach the 85 percent reforestation goal, Colligan said. "The storm set us back. Now we're probably on a 15-year schedule." However, "a huge jump-start in support" means more trees will be planted, and faster than previously anticipated, Colligan predicted.
"If we succeed in planting 30,000 trees over the next five years, which is our goal, that would would be unprecedented," he said.
Private dollars and sweat equity are driving the reforestation campaign. Since the storm, a loose coalition of groups including Re-Tree Western New York, Buffalo Green Fund and the Buffalo News Green Leaf Campaign have raised money and appealed for volunteers to replace an estimated 30,000 trees lost in the storm, including at least 22,000 in Erie and Niagara counties.
Meanwhile, a $50,000 grant from M&T Bank, and $50,000 in donations from the Olmsted Re-Leaf campaign, orchestrated by HSBC Bank, will launch the largest tree initiative in the Olmsted Conservancy's 30-year history.
"With the spring planting, we are building momentum to not just replace trees lost during the storm, but to restore the full glory of the Olmsted system," said conservancy CEO Jonathan M. Holifield.
About 500 volunteers ages 15 and over are expected to pitch in at Delaware and MLK Jr. this weekend and Cazenovia and Riverside parks and traffic circles on McKinley Parkway next weekend.
Trees will be put in using the bare-root method, which takes about an hour per tree. Twenty-two varieties of maples, oaks and disease-resistant elms, all native to New York State and most locally grown, will be planted.
Six hundred young trees will be dispersed elsewhere in the city this spring. Two hundred more are destined for suburbs affected by the Oct. 12 storm, which dropped 2 feet of snow on fully leaved trees in Buffalo and areas to the east and northeast.
City reforestation will resume in the fall and carry over into 2008. Two thousand trees will be planted next autumn and another 3,000 to 4,000 the following spring.
The pace will partly depend on how quickly new volunteers get the hang of the task. "Most people haven't planted before. We need to train them," Colligan said.
As new seedlings go into the soil along city curbs, tree-trimming and stump removal will proceed with $1.3 million recently released by the control board. The federal government will reimburse the city for that expense.
It's still unclear how many of the thousands of trees damaged by the storm will survive in the long run. The verdict may not be in for another year or longer.
And in some suburban areas with heavy tree damage, much needs to be done before reforestation can begin.