Thank you to NYC ReLeaf Planning Committee Member Nancy Wolf and NYC ReLeaf Committee Co-chair and NYSUFC Board Member Andrew Newman for sharing this account with us.
Along with ReLeaf groups and other stakeholders around the State, New York City ReLeaf has been active in the effort to protect and preserve the vital federal Urban and Community Forestry (UCF) funds in the 2018 USDA Forest Service budget. When our NYC ReLeaf Committee learned of the concerted advocacy effort made by several prominent non-profits in California, we did not want to be outdone by our West Coast counterparts! We resolved to contact our local delegation.
With 12 U.S. Congressional Representatives across the five boroughs of NYC, it was important to alert all of them to the situation early last summer. Two of the NYC delegation—Rep. Jose Serrano of the Bronx and Rep. Grace Meng of Queens—sit on the important House Appropriations Committee that hammers out the House proposed budget, but to raise awareness of UCF more broadly, we contacted all 12 legislators.
A joint letter of explanation was written by NYC ReLeaf Co-Chair Andrew Newman and myself (ReLeaf Planning Committee Member Nancy Wolf) and was sent to a large number of tree-related not-for-profits in the City. We asked them to sign on to the letter that would be faxed to all in the NYC delegation as a first step. We were delighted that the following signed on: Bronx Council on Environmental Quality, Bronx River Alliance, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Magnolia Tree Earth Center of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, Queens Botanical Garden, Trees New York, and Trust for Public Land.
Calls were made to many of the offices of the Representatives, including those of Yvette Clark, Nydia Velasquez, Elliot Engel, and Jose Serrano. A personal message was delivered to Grace Meng, who is particularly supportive of the Queens Botanical Garden. In the meantime, we were kept up-to-date via the Arbor Day Foundation and Alliance for Community Trees staff in Nebraska, who are part of the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition that testified at the House Committee hearings last May.
In September, we were pleased to meet with District 14 Representative Joseph Crowley via outreach from Susan Lacerte, Executive Director of Queens Botanical Garden. Also attending were representatives of Alley Pond Environmental Center. We discussed the vital need for UCF funding and urged Congressman Crowley, who is considered the “Dean” of the NYC delegation and is also a leader of the House Democratic Caucus, to support Amendment 27, which had been introduced as part of the final debate on the Appropriations Bill. This amendment “prohibits the use of appropriated funds to eliminate the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership or programs that are for the reforestation of urban areas.” Mr. Crowley agreed to support Amendment 27 and to spread the word. We were recently delighted to learn via the Council’s own contacts that Amendment 27 passed in the final House bill. Now we need to support it in the final negotiations with the Senate bill!
We will continue in our advocacy, understanding that, even as the FY 2018 Bill is passed, work will soon begin on FY 2019. To be effective, advocacy for the urban forest must be ongoing. We are hopeful that everyone involved with the Council and their colleagues will continue to educate themselves and their representatives at every level. And more Council members writing UCF advocacy postcards—what a great idea!