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A sequoia-sized goal: Amherst aims to plant a million trees in 5 years

The math behind Amherst’s push to plant 1 million new trees in the town over the next five years is eye-catching.

In a town of about 34,000 total acres, it requires planting 29 trees on each acre of land.

It means putting 549 trees in the ground every day for the next five years – or 730 trees daily if you don’t count the winter months.

And to put that in context, consider the town now plants about 400 new trees each year.

To say it’s an ambitious goal is a sequoia-sized understatement.

“It’s a lot of trees,” conceded Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa.

Kulpa said he doesn’t know yet how much the program will cost, what types of trees they will plant or where precisely they’ll go.

But he and other boosters say focusing on the difficulty of the undertaking misses the forest for, well, the big picture.

They say it’s an effort to reforest a town where an untold number of trees fell in recent decades to make way for office parks, shopping plazas and subdivisions.

The town wants to re-green vast sections of parks – including, possibly, Audubon Golf Course and the former Westwood Country Club – and re-introduce trees to neighborhoods along Niagara Falls Boulevard, Maple Road and elsewhere that lost trees over the years.

The town will look to state grants, donations and payments from developers to help cover the cost. Organizations ranging from Daemen College, a Sikh student group from the University at Buffalo and the local chapter of the Sierra Club already have pledged their support.

“You’re sending something into the future when you plant a tree,” said Ellen Banks, a retired Daemen professor and leader of the Sierra Club Niagara Group. She wore a “Make America Green Again” baseball cap.

Officials announced the initiative Thursday at Daemen College under a tent on the school’s front lawn as snow fell lightly outside.

Speaking to reporters and members of the Amherst community, Kulpa said people – primarily on his staff – have asked why he picked 1 million trees as the goal for the project. He said it’s an aggressive target that he hopes the public and private sector can rally around. (If everyone living in the town plants eight trees, they’ll be all set.)

"That number seems huge and ridiculous, but it's absolutely something that's attainable," Kulpa said in an interview.

For too long, Kulpa said, the town has lost countless trees to commercial and residential development, along with disease in more recent years.

Now, the town looks to guide the reforesting of Amherst with new zoning rules and the tree-planting program.

Some planting will take place in parks and other public spaces. Other trees would fill in bare spots along streets and on private properties.

Kulpa said he doesn’t know how many trees the town has now.

Amherst spends about $100,000 annually to plant new trees and another $90,000 per year to inoculate ash trees against the emerald ash borer. But planting a million trees will cost substantially more.

Kulpa said the town is conducting a tree survey. Once that is completed, he said, Amherst will be eligible for state matching grants to plant additional trees.

The town also will look to donations from businesses and community groups. Kulpa said the town will also ask developers to be “tree-neutral” in their plans, as a baseline, and to add 29 more trees per acre to their properties.

If developers can’t fit the extra trees on their lots, they would pay $200 per unplanted tree into a town fund used to plant more trees, he said.

"Now is the time to get serious," Kulpa told The Buffalo News.

Following New York City's example

It’s easy for Kulpa to plant the seed of this program, but it's a lot harder to plant a million trees.

Paul Maurer would know. Maurer is founder and chairman of Re-Tree, which led the effort to plant enough trees to replace those lost during the October storm of 2006.

The group this past spring announced its volunteers had planted 30,000 trees across the region, matched by 30,000 from local governments.

That took a dozen years and cost $1.5 million for the 30,000 planted by Re-Tree alone, Maurer said, though the group mainly planted juvenile street trees and seedlings would be cheaper.

“That’s quite a project,” he said of Amherst’s goal.

Amherst follows the tree-lined path set by New York City, which in 2015 finished an eight-year-long campaign to plant 1 million trees. That effort boosted the city’s tree population by about 20%, the New York Times reported. Organizers raised $30 million toward the effort.

Supporters of the Amherst program are optimistic their campaign will succeed too.

Daemen kick-started the drive by pledging to plant 22 new mature trees on its campus along Main Street in Snyder.

Daemen since 2013 has planted 200 trees around campus with money raised from donors as part of an effort to make the grounds more inviting, President Gary Olson said.

The college is looking to raise $22 million by 2022, the 75th anniversary of its founding as Rosary Hill College.

Daemen will plant the 22 trees on and around the college's front lawn, and people who donate to the comprehensive campaign can place a commemorative paver stone in front of the tree.

The Sikh Student Association at UB organized a group of volunteers who last month planted 36 trees at Saratoga Hill Park in the town.

It’s part of a worldwide program by Sikhs to honor the founder of their religion by planting trees and bolstering the environment.

“We built this great relationship with the Town of Amherst,” said Malika Kodial, the group’s president.

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