Was someone barking up the wrong trees when 10 arbors were axed along Main Street late last year?

The festering issue, which provoked outrage among some local tree lovers, is at the root of questions about the funding, responsibility and future of downtown-area programs, and has put replanting the trees on hold for the near future.

"Apparently there were a number of trees removed from the west side of Main Street in November," Pamela Klomberg, chairwoman of the Tree Board, told a recent meeting of the panel. "I personally received a lot of critical and angry calls about whether I was the expletive person who was responsible for cutting down those trees."

Steve Desloge, president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, also received a number of complaints. However, he said, "out of the 10 that were removed, five were 100 percent dead, and four were basically 75 percent dead, so we agreed to remove them and brick over" the streetscape.

"The merchants took care of originally planting the trees years and years ago, and then when they died, we took care of removing the trees," Desloge said.

"We really can't be in the tree business in the future," he said, "especially with the creation of the Tree Board. They can make better decisions ... and quite honestly the DMA can't afford to take and put in a whole new set of trees. It's quite an expensive venture."

Now, there are no trees on the western side of Main Street between the Post Road and Elm Street.

"We unfortunately didn't have accurate responses to give to the people who were asking (about the missing trees), so what we did was send a letter to our tree warden, who is responsible for care of all trees," Klomberg said.

Andy Puskas, Westport's part-time tree warden, in a brief response to Klomberg, indicated that requests were made by merchants to remove specific trees. Puskas had given approval, and the merchants then had the trees chopped down, he said.

That response, however, did not completely satisfy Tree Board members.

"Our intention was certainly to provide responses to very angry Westport residents, but also to get clarity for what is called Westport's urban forest ... what systems and management are in place currently," Klomberg said.

In his proposed 2013-14 budget, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff has requested additional funding to pay for a full-time tree warden, as well as more money for tree maintenance.

"Pam, your discussions with Gordon have had an effect," John Broadbin, deputy director of public works, told Klomberg at the Tree Board meeting. "This is the first time I've seen an administration respond over and above what a department is requesting," he said, in his 20 years of service with the town.

Broadbin said maintenance of the town's trees requires more funding than is available. He encouraged Klomberg to rally support for the additional funding prior to the March 6 meeting of the Board of Finance on that proposed budget allocation.

"You need to have people say this is one of the services we want," Broadbin said. "You want to make sure whatever money they're putting in is used right."

Desloge said that, along with having paid for the original planting of the Main Street trees and their recent removal, the DMA also pays for the lights that decorate downtown trees during the holiday season. He said the holiday lights cost the merchant group approximately $8,500 last year for trees in Parker-Harding Plaza and upper Main Street.

"Every fall we are faced with the issue of how do we figure out funding for lighting," he said.

Unresolved at this point is the question: Who -- if anyone -- will replace the trees on Main Street?