Attorneys dig in to national tree planting
By MATT CHANDLER
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By the time the American Bar Association launched its "One Million Trees" project in 2009, Western New York had already been decimated by the so-called October Surprise and a reforesting effort was under way in the wake of the storm. The ABA was asking attorneys across the country to contribute financially as well as by volunteering, with the goal of planting a million trees by 2014.
A decade before the ABA initiative, however, Buffalo attorney David Colligan had already coordinated the planting of thousands of trees locally. Colligan, a partner with Watson Bennett, developed a passion for trees as an offshoot of his hobby of making maple syrup. After "becoming frustrated with the decline of the tree population in Buffalo," he said, he decided to do something about it. Working in conjunction with the city forrester, he pitched a plan to form an organization called Reforest Buffalo.
With the backing of the city, the group planted 100 new trees on the first day and went on to plant more than 5,000.
Colligan also applied for a grant to survey the tree population in the City of Buffalo, saying, "You can't manage what you haven't counted."
The survey found that the Queen City had a tree population of 67,000 and that it was 67 percent forested - a higher number than Colligan and his colleagues expected.
After completing the survey in 2001, Reforest Buffalo oversaw the development of a master plan to invest 1 million dollars a year over a three-year period to not only plant new trees but trim, tend to and remove troubled trees.
"The week before the October storm hit in 2006, we took the last hazard tree down," he said.
When the unexpected heavy snow and ice came, the city suffered far less than suburban areas, where an excessive amount of hazard trees knocked out power for, in some cases, weeks. According to Colligan, it was one example why tree maintenance and plantings are so critical.
He went on to work with Re-Tree WNY, a group born after the October storm that has planted more than 24,000 trees in the region. It lost about 6,600 trees that had to be removed after the October storm, he said. And collectively, the numbers underscore the importance of the ABA initiative and of lawyers supporting it.
"What I can tell you is that the average person may not stop to notice and appreciate the trees on a daily basis," he says. "But they add to our cities and our communities in so many ways."
Few people understand and appreciate that sentiment more than Thomas Herrera-Mishler. As president and CEO of the Buffalo Olmstead Parks Conservancy, he has a passion not only for trees but for the rich history behind the layout of city parks more than a century ago by landscape designer Fredrick Law Olmstead Sr.
"I am very excited about the Bar Association¹s challenge to plant the million trees by 2014," Herrera-Mishler said. "We have already planted a lot of trees with the help of our own volunteers, and we have a very good track record of not only getting the trees planted but establishing them and making sure they survive."
He estimated the average survival rate for trees planted by volunteers is 60 percent. Those planted by his organization, however, have a survival rate of 90 percent. That being said, he pointed to such things as weather and vandalism as factors that affect the health of new trees, thus increasing the need for perpetual planting.
The thousands of trees being planted in the Olmstead Park system aren't randomly placed, he added. The group uses original designs from Fredrick Law Olmstead's master plan to keep the layout of the parks as authentic as possible.
"People look at these landscapes and they have no idea that they are designed intentionally," said Herrera-Mishler. "They just look like attractive landscapes when, in reality, every detail of these landscapes is intentional."
In addition to preserving Olmstead's work, he praised the efforts of the ABA and its members and cited other benefits of the reforesting effort.
"These parks are so important to the quality of life in our community. They add a tremendous amount to the property value in our community, as much as 20 percent, while reducing energy consumption," he said.
Among those getting behind the million-tree initiative is Steve Ricca, a partner in the Buffalo office of Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel LLP.
"I was an Olmstead Parks board member for several years and I think one of the key assets in any community, and certainly in any park, are the trees," he said.
The community must understand that the concept of planting trees isn't a short-term effort, he said. Maintaining a series of parks like those in Buffalo is a continual commitment on the part of the city.
"Trees have a natural life cycle, and so there are always some that are going to need to be replenished or replaced," Ricca said. "So the ABA's national effort is an ambitious one, but here in Buffalo, if we can reach our goal of planting 1,000 trees each year, I think that will be pretty amazing."
The average cost to plant and maintain a tree is $350. To donate time or money, visit www.bfloprks.org.