Feb. 18, 1934 – Jan. 22, 2019
When Edwin S. Drabek joined the Forestry Division of the Parks Department in 1962, the Dutch elm disease epidemic was raging, destroying the majestic shade trees that gave charm to the city’s streets and parkways.
“We went from being doctors to undertakers,” Buffalo’s longtime city forester, remarked to a reporter in 1998.
“At its height,” he said, “we were taking down 9,000 trees a year.”
During his tenure, he oversaw the removal of 95,000 mature elms that were stricken by the fungal infection spread by elm bark beetles. He also directed the subsequent planting of more than 75,000 trees of various disease-resistant species to replace them.
“The thing about the urban forest, there aren’t any biological controls like you have in the countryside,” he told Buffalo News reporter Mike Vogel in 1992. “Everything is artificial in the city. It’s a wonder that any of the trees live in the city because it’s such a harsh environment.”
He died unexpectedly Jan. 22 after becoming ill in his Hamburg home. He was 84.
Born in Lackawanna, one of five children, he was a 1951 graduate of Our Lady of Victory Academy in Lackawanna and went on to attend the State College of Forestry in Syracuse, receiving a bachelor’s degree in forestry in 1955.
During his junior and senior years in college, he worked as a timber management aide in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana with the U.S. Forest Service.
A member of the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps in college, he served in the Army from 1957 to 1959 as a radio repairman in Korea.
Returning from service, Mr. Drabek worked for a year in Rochester as a tree specialist for Monroe Tree Service. After marrying the former Carolyn A. Hess in 1960, he became a sales representative for the Davey Tree Expert Co.
He became Buffalo’s assistant city forester in 1962, joining a Forestry Division that had 50 full-time employees.
In charge of the trees lining 750 miles of city streets, as well as the trees in Buffalo’s Olmsted park system, after he was promoted to city forester in 1968, his staff was trimmed to 15 due to budget-cutting by 1977 and just six when he retired in 1992.
Well-respected in his field, he continued working for the city as a consultant until 2000. He was hired in 1993 as senior forester by Wendel Duchscherer consulting engineers, a position he held until 2007. He also was a tree and landscape consultant for Micha Tree and Landscape Consultants in Ontario, N.Y.
Mr. Drabek served as president of the International Society of Municipal Arborists and the Men’s Garden Club of Buffalo. He was a director of the New York State Arborists Association.
He also was a member of the Society of American Foresters, the Men’s Garden Club of Hamburg, the Town of Hamburg Conservation Advisory Board and the Village of Hamburg Environmental Committee. He was a voluntary arborist for the Village of Hamburg.
He enjoyed hunting, fishing, gardening and nature photography.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Timothy and Michael; and five grandsons.
A Mass of Christian Burial was offered Jan. 26 in SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 66 E. Main St., Hamburg.