Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Solvay passes ordinance to plant new trees, plans to join Tree City USA

Two women stand next to a sapling in a field across the street from residential houses.
Avery Gingerich
Theresa Wheatley and Leanna Nugent stand beside the first tree, an oak, that was planted last November as part of the new initiative. Feb. 27, 2024

Solvay's Village Council has approved an ordinance requiring the village government to preserve mature trees and plant new ones.

Village Trustee Theresa Wheatley is a member of the village's Tree Committee. She has helped build support for the committee among council members and other trustees.

The Rochester native said she became interested in the topic after buying a home in Solvay.

“I grew up spending hours in our forest, in my backyard, and I wanted my children to be able to experience that," said Wheatley. "But in a small village, with a village lot, there’s limited opportunities for that."

She and her husband bought their home in 2019. Wheatley said the previous owner took good care of the property, but there simply wasn’t much vegetation. A single lilac bush stood in the backyard, she said, and the foliage in the front yard was invasive to Central New York.

So Wheatley began to renovate, and her desire to create a vibrant environment opened her eyes to an entire ecosystem.

“I started by trying to just attract birds,” she said. “But then I realized if you really want to have birds in your backyard, you have to have a habitat for them. In order to have a habitat you have to have trees, you have to have shrubs, you have to have things that provide food for them.”

Wheatley acknowledged that the resources she has been able to devote to an initiative that began, for her, as home renovation is a privilege. She wants the village government to work with all kinds of property owners – including the landlords of multifamily rentals that she says make up at least half of the houses in Solvay – to make similar changes when possible.

Wheatley said the new ordinance is the framework for the government to maintain mature trees and plant new ones that are native to the area, with expert help from initiative partner, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga (CCE).

Leanna Nugent, a Community Forestry Educator with the CCE, who also lives in the village, says there are numerous benefits to abundant, healthy trees.

“They can even boost your immunity, there’s been studies that show that. They increase property values, they show a home is well cared for," said Nugent. "They obviously improve our environment, they sequester carbon, they reduce storm water runoff, and they reduce our heating and cooling costs.”

Nugent sees the partnership as mutually beneficial.

“A lot of these municipalities in our county don’t have a designated person to take care of their community forests,” she said. “So we rely on these tree committees, these groups of volunteers, to take care of the community forests.”

Wheatley said the ordinance is also a step towards Solvay joining Tree City USA, a nationwide initiative started by the Arbor Day Foundation. DeWitt, Manlius, Liverpool, and Syracuse are among the 3,559 member communities, according to the foundation’s website.

As an aspiring member, Solvay commits to celebrating Arbor Day, maintaining its Tree Committee, and spending at least $2 per capita on its tree program.

Correction: An earlier version of this article described Theresa Wheatley as the founder of the tree committee. She was not. That was former Village Trustee Deborah DeGilio.