Brighton, New York after trees were planted. photo courtesy of author

February, 2, 2021

Oped by former Brighton, NY, Supervisor Sandra L. Frankel

Trees have inspired writers across the ages.  William Shakespeare in As You Like it, wrote, “And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stone, and good in everything. I would not change it.” Walt Whitman opined in The Wisdom of Trees and other writings about how trees help us to see reality vs. perception, and about the healing power of nature.

Trees benefit us in so many ways:  Trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, which is necessary for human and animal life. Tree canopies provide shade from the sun, lowering temperatures and providing shelter.  The natural beauty of trees softens sharp lines of our built environment and offers aesthetic joy in our lives.  Trees in woodlands create animal habitats and places for us to reconnect with nature.  Tree farms can provide a sustainable resource if managed properly.  Flowering trees provide pollen for bees, and fruit trees yield an important food for humans and animals, part of the ecological cycle of life on earth. 

I was inspired by Al Gore’s environmental advocacy and challenged by the threat that global warming and climate change pose.  The importance of thinking globally and acting locally resonated with me during my tenure as Supervisor of the town of Brighton.  

As part of my administration’s effort to ensure a clean and healthy environment for our town, we developed the Green Brighton plan.  Among the initiatives was an urban reforestation program, championed by one of our town board members.  Elmwood Avenue became the symbol of why we needed to do this.

Elmwood Avenue is a county road that runs through the town of Brighton, connecting the city of Rochester and towns to the south. Its name reminds us of the beautiful canopies and environmental benefits that elm trees provided communities in upstate, western New York, North America, Europe, and New Zealand. Its name also reminds us of the devastation that the Dutch Elm Disease caused to native populations of these trees in the mid-20th century. It is estimated that 77 million elm trees in North America were lost in 1930, and more than 75 percent by 1989. 

Our Urban Reforestation Program involved a process that culminated in the creation of new town law and annual funding to support our tree initiative.  Because of our efforts, Brighton has been recognized by the National Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City USA for decades and continues to enjoy that designation. 

We started by hiring the services of a professional arborist to conduct a municipal Tree Survey to provide a baseline from which to work.  We learned the number and types of trees in public locations, and identified Significant Town Trees, those with a diameter or 30 inches or more at a height of four feet above the ground. We then established a Master Tree List of, “suitable and desirable types and species of trees able to thrive in Town highways and public places of the town.”  Factors included geographic location and trees that could withstand the impacts of winter snow and ice control measures on local roads.  

The Town Board named the Conservation Board as the Town Tree Council, an additional responsibility that includes recommending the consulting services of a professional arborist, creating a Town Forestry Plan with the help of a citizens committee, and undertaking public educational activities regarding the plan.

The Town Forestry Plan outlines protection and preservation of public and private tree resources of the town, maintenance of the Master Tree List, arboricultural specifications and standards of practice, conducting tree surveys, and sponsoring educational programs for the public on trees. 

Municipal governance of trees was codified in the Town Code under Chapter 175. In addition to initiatives noted above, the tree code also includes issues related to replacement and replanting, permits, regulated activities and restrictions on use, landscaping, restoration of land, clear vision areas, penalties and enforcement, agricultural operations, Comprehensive Development Regulations, site plan review, major subdivision approval, and communication facilities, among other tree-related matters.

The Public Works Department created a tree nursery with disease resistant elm trees that were planted throughout the town when sufficiently mature.  We secured baby trees that were distributed as part of a tree education program for residents of the town.  We undertook measures to treat Ash trees afflicted with the xxx in the public rights-of-way and in town parks. New trees planted in neighborhood tree lawns replaced dangerous or dead trees.

Today, Brighton ‘s neighborhoods, business districts, and public parks host beautiful trees that not only enhance our community’s quality of life, but also add to the appeal and value of homes and business properties.

For details, please visit the Town of Brighton website,, and the Brighton Town Code,, search “Trees.”