The event was one of…
On an early evening not many hours before the official arrival of spring, a group of Queens residents met in a conference room on the second floor of Queens Borough Hall to learn how they might help to make our fair borough greener.
The event was one of five “Green for Green: Funding the Urban Forest” meetings sponsored by New York City ReLeaf in each of the boroughs.
Nancy Wolf of Brooklyn Heights and Paul Kerzner of Ridgewood, both longtime greening advocates and active in the New York State Urban and Community Forestry Council (Nancy is editor of the council’s “Taking Root” newsletter and Paul is treasurer of the council), presented a comprehensive overview of what it takes to get funds for tree planting and maintenance.
Then, after a question-and-answer period, those attending wrote letters to the mayor, borough president, local City Council and congressional members, local state legislators and U.S. senators, addressing the need for funds.
Tree-planting funds in the capital budget come from the mayor, the borough presidents and the City Council. In the current fiscal year, no borough presidents gave any money and one council member whose district covers Ridgewood and Bushwick gave $587,000, with the remainder, about an equal amount, coming from a Manhattan council member. No other council members anywhere were involved.
Nancy and Paul urged that the mayor be asked for $15 million, the borough presidents for $1 million each and all the council members for $250,000 each. The grand total, if all of it is available, would be $35.5 million, which would mean 61,000 trees could be planted. (But please note that since the meeting, recent projected increases in tree-planting costs may reduce the number of trees for the money and may even mean that we don’t keep up with replacing the approximately 7,000 trees that die each year.)
This amount is well in excess of what has been allocated in recent years, but those at the meeting felt it was doable and said so in their letters to the elected officials.
The group was also asked to seek funding for a sensible and sustainable program for inspection, pruning, removal and other maintenance for street and park trees, part of the expense budget for New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Again, the amount sought, $12 million, is much higher than what has been available recently, but the group felt it was doable and needed.
State and federal funding, although not on the scale of the city and local funding in total, is important to sustain and maintain our urban forest and to help in such efforts as the Living Memorials Program, which funds tree groves honoring those who died in the murders of Sept. 11, 2001.
In addition, the federal funding to fight the Asian long-horned beetle, which has caused the loss, thus far, of some 6,000 New York City trees, including thousands in Queens, is vital if we are to eradicate this pest. Federal officials have been touting much progress in this matter recently and their rosy predictions may lull us into a sense of apathy about this scourge. This must not happen.
Adequate federal funding to support local action here and in other parts of New York state, New Jersey and Illinois where the beetle exists is vital if we are to control its spread and get rid of it.
After these fine presentations, many handwritten letters were sent out the next day. Others were sent out as soon as possible after the meeting. In all instances, as Nancy and Paul wisely pointed out again and again, the letters had to be personal in their substance and tone in order for elected officials to sit up and take notice.
Thus far, at least two of them that I know of have not only noticed but taken action.
Answering the letter she received from a constituent, Borough President Helen Marshall wrote in late March that she agrees with the writer that “street trees help diminish dangerous air pollutants, increase property values and improve the quality of life in our city” and she said she had allocated “a record $2 million in this year’s capital budget for the planting of street trees on major commercial corridors across our borough.”
Marshall added that during the next year she will “allocate additional resources for the planting of street trees in neighborhoods across the borough as well.”
Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) from District 30, replying to a constituent’s letter, noted that he is “attempting to secure $125,000 for fiscal year 2005, in addition to my normal allocation of 250 street trees” for his district.
So at least in these instances, the excellent crash course in citizen advocacy for an important cause seems to have paid off. It was evident that Nancy and Paul “knew their stuff” and imparted facts, figures and strategy in a direct and effective way. They deserve the thanks of everyone who cares about the quality of life in our borough and city.
One elected official, Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli (D-Nassau County), chair of the Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation, did answer a letter but did not give any indication of where he stands on the matter.
And Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in answering a letter, discussed the budget situation in New York City but made no specific commitment to tree-planting and maintenance, although he did comment that the state of the city’s finances had improved.
To learn more about New York ReLeaf and the New York State Urban and Community Forestry Council, you may write to Nancy Wolf at 87 State St., Brooklyn, NY 11201, or call her at 718-834-4589. If you do, be prepared to become an active participant in the battle for a greater green canopy for all of us.
While you are being active for greening, don’t forget the wonderful community gardens that have meant so much in so many areas of our city. The city’s Green Thumb Community Gardens Program, in existence for decades, deserves support, too. So mention it to the mayor, the speaker of the Council and your own city council member. The $1 million will mean stronger, more vibrant communities everywhere.