For the past five years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration has been rapidly planting trees in New York City as part of the mayor’s goal of a million plantings across the five boroughs by 2017.
The Parks Department is the leading agency behind MillionTreesNYC. Just weeks before a freak October snowstorm savaged the city’s canopy, the administration held a ceremony in Harlem celebrating a milestone: It planted its 500,000th tree, and reached that halfway point a year ahead of schedule.
But underneath the publicity is a growing budget gap. The planting program’s budget has been slashed in recent years and the forecasted reduction for 2012, compared with the prior year, is a cut that exceeds 20 percent.
What’s more, after the trees are planted, they must be cared for. And the Parks Department, which does that maintenance, faces an overall 12 percent budget cut this year. City officials declined repeated requests to specify exactly how much will be reduced in tree maintenance, but they did acknowledge it will be affected.
Trimming trees not only includes removing diseased and damaged branches; it also stimulates tree growth. Removing the remnants of trees from the ground is more than just removing stumps. The city needs to get rid of those stumps to clear land for planting new trees.
Budget cuts have included a hiring freeze for just about every city agency. For the Parks Department, less staff means fewer workers to prune trees. And the city only owns two stump removers.
A Parks Department spokeswoman, Tara Kiernan, said the shortage of stump removers is not an issue because most of the stump removal is contracted out.
The department maintained they do not have “declining maintenance abilities,” rather they have been asked “to do more with less.”
Reduced cash means reduced pruning.
Up until three years ago, city trees were pruned every seven years.
Now the pruning cycle is longer. Trees get trimmed only once every 10 years.
A Parks Department spokeswoman said a 15-year cycle is possible, but no decision has been made yet.