Remembering a Titan of Urban Forestry: Ed Drabek

Edwin S. (Ed) Drabek

Feb. 18, 1934 – Jan. 22, 2019

Some factual information for this post is excerpted from Mr. Drabek’s obituary, written by Dale Anderson for The Buffalo News.

Ed Drabek leaves a legacy of nearly 60 years of service to Buffalo’s urban forest and community and to our wider field of urban forestry. Drabek joined the Buffalo Parks Department Forestry Division 1962 as assistant city forester and was promoted to city forester in 1968.

In the early years, his career was consumed by managing the ravages of Dutch elm disease, removing elms and beginning to restock the Buffalo city forest with a wider variety of urban-tolerant species. It’s estimated that Drabek oversaw the removal of about 95,000 mature elms, but then supervised the planting of 75,000 trees—with sustainable biodiversity in mind. 

NYSDOT Landscape Architect and former NYSUFC President Peter Pasnik served as Buffalo City Forester from 1996-2000 and was mentored by Drabek. “He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the city, its streets, and the trees,” Pasnik says. “He remembered the year every tree was planted, and details of each one’s care. He could identify the species of a 2-inch-tall seedling from 20 feet away or a mature tree from its silhouette a hundred yards away—his ID skills were that incredible.”

In Pasnik’s first fall on the job, he and Drabek went over old records in preparation for a new inventory, and Drabek helped him pull together a fall planting of 100 trees. “I was brand new on the job, so it was a bit of mad scramble, but I was lucky to have Ed to help me,” Pasnik says. “He shared everything he knew. From his retirement until his passing, he was always around, mentoring, consulting. He never really retired. He also knew every diner and coffee shop in the City intimately, so I learned about all these neat places in Buffalo from him. He had a wry sense of humor I enjoyed. Ed was a hell of a guy.”

Buffalo Department of Public Works Parks & Streets Deputy Commissioner Andy Rabb worked as Buffalo City Forester from 2000 to 2005 and was also mentored by Drabek. “Ed was extremely knowledgeable, not only of the city’s trees but also of how to work effectively in Buffalo. He was surprisingly patient with me, though also never held back what he was thinking, and I truly believe he got a kick out of being back, assisting a very ‘green’ city forester (me). Through the routine of daily calls and inspections, to navigating the chaos of autumn wind storms, he knew he was making an impact. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have worked and learned beside him.”

Rabb hastens to point out that Drabek worked in Forestry during a difficult time, with the loss of tens of thousands of American elms and with the community replanting efforts that followed, only to be hit with a dramatic downsizing of Parks operations across the board. “Yet through those challenges, Ed managed to continue to maintain Buffalo as a city of trees,” he says.

Drabek grew up in Lackawanna and attended what’s now known as SUNY-ESF, earning his BS in Forestry in 1955. He worked in timber management for the U.S. Forest Service and then served in the army in Korea from 1957 to 1959. Upon his return to the States, he worked for Monroe Tree Service and married Carolyn A. Hess in 1960. He worked for two years for Davey Tree Expert Co. as a sales consultant until he took the city forester position in Buffalo in 1962. At that time, the Forestry Division had 50 employees; by the time he semi-retired from the City in 1992, budget cuts had reduced the staff to just six.

Drabek was intimately involved with the Society of Municipal Arborists and served as its president in 1977-78. He was a volunteer President of the New York State Arborists and served the Town of Hamburg on its Men’s Garden Club and Conservation Advisory Board and the Village of Hamburg on its Environmental Committee and as a voluntary arborist. He is survived by his wife Carolyn, his sons Timothy and Michael, and their families.

 

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