Did you know Atlanta has the country’s densest urban tree canopy? According to a study done by the Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission and GA Tech, the tree canopy covers 47.9% of Atlanta.
The National Forest Service has deemed Atlanta “the most heavily forested urban area in the country”. The national average for a city’s tree canopy is just 27%. According to another source at deeproot.com, Atlanta’s tree canopy still ranks at number one with 36.7%, but has declined from 48% in 1974 and 38% in 1996.
Atlanta is known as the “City in a Forest” for the amazing tree canopy surrounding the city that is uncommon in most urban cities. The city’s lush canopy filters out pollutants and cools sidewalks and buildings reducing energy costs in the unforgiving Southern heat.
In past years, we have seen a decline in Atlanta’s beautiful tree canopy due to unnecessary removal of healthy trees, heavy rains, drought, aged forests, new pests and diseases, and urban construction.
The drought in the late 2000’s caused trees to die at an unprecedented rate. In 2009, Piedmont Park lost a dozen trees to drought, compared to the average one or two. This year, heavy rains and summer storms have caused many trees with compromised root systems to uproot and fall. But with renewed interest in urban living, one of the biggest concerns for tree decline and death is construction damage.
When a lot is graded for development, the senior trees are normally the first ones to go. Unfortunately, it is unlikely a tree of that size and with that canopy spread will ever be able to thrive there again. Grading a property to increase the size of a structure or dig out a basement makes it nearly impossible for the roots of a replacement tree to get the space needed to grow to maturity. In addition, a property that has been graded to the Georgia red clay has scraped out the rich topsoil which contains necessary insects, worms, and natural fertilizer that helps to keep trees healthy.
Most of the cities oldest trees are nearing 80-100 years old, the normal lifespan of a tree is 100-150 years old. A Tulip Poplar in Brookhaven dates back to the Revolutionary War. Atlanta’s largest tree is a 102 foot tall Cherrybark Oak with a 23 foot circumference located at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where founder of Heath Tree Service, James H. Heath Jr., resided during his cancer treatment. The state champion American Elm resides in Buckhead, reaching 91ft tall! These Atlanta senior trees are nearing the end of their natural lifespan. Making them all the more necessary to protect.
Young trees absorb carbon dioxide emissions at a rate of 13 pounds per tree each year. A mature tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.
In 1985 “Trees Atlanta” was founded by Central Atlanta Progress, the Atlanta Commissioner of Parks, and the Atlanta Junior League and tasked with the duty to protect Atlanta’s forests, prevent tree loss, and create new green space. Trees Atlanta is a non-profit organization that relies on volunteers to plant and maintain new trees. Trees Atlanta has planted about 96,000 trees since their inception.
Laws in Atlanta regulate tree removal on private property, you need a permit to take down a tree more than 6 inches in diameter. This is for the protection of the older, overstory trees that form the canopy covering most of the metro-area.
More than three-quarters of the trees in Atlanta are in residential areas, only 6% occupy city land in parks and green spaces.