As Atlanta continues to grow, so does the risk to our Urban Forest. Learn ways you can help conserve our City in the Forest and do your part!
Urban Tree Canopy Study
The City of Atlanta contracted researchers at the Center for Geographic Information Systems (CGIS) and the Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development (CQGRD) at Georgia Tech to quantify the existing Urban Tree Canopy in the City. Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) is defined as the layer of leaves, branches and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above. The aim of the Atlanta UTC study is to help City decisionmakers and stakeholders better understand and manage their forest resources.
Why Urban Trees and Forests Are Important?
The urban forest — defined as the system of trees and other plants that grow individually, in small groups, or under forest conditions on public and private lands in cities, suburbs, and towns — is part of the larger ecological system, and it provides many of the same benefits as natural forest systems. Current estimates indicate that 80% of the US population lives in urban areas. As more rural land becomes urbanized, the role of urban forests and urban tree canopy becomes increasingly important. Urban trees provide a number of established aesthetic and environmental benefits.
– Trees shade and cool paved surfaces and buildings, helping mitigate the “Urban Heat Island” effect while reducing energy demands.
– Trees clean particulates from the air and soil, which helps decrease air and water pollution.
– Trees provide a stormwater management service by intercepting rainfall that would otherwise flow directly into water bodies and the drainage system, causing streambank erosion, and potentially overwhelming the stormwater system, especially in areas with combined storm and sanitary sewers.
– Trees provide habitat for native pollinators, migrating birds, and other important wildlife.
– Trees make neighborhoods and urban areas more livable by providing aesthetic, social, and psychological benefits for residents.
For many residents and visitors, Atlanta’s mature and vibrant urban tree canopy is its signature environmental feature.
Project at a Glance
The City of Atlanta contracted researchers at the Center for Geographic Information Systems (CGIS) and the Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development (CQGRD) at Georgia Tech to quantify the existing Urban Tree Canopy in the City. Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) is defined as the layer of leaves, branches and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above.
The aim of the Atlanta UTC study is to help City decisionmakers and stakeholders better understand and manage their forest resources. Specific goals for this assessment were to (1) map urban tree canopy and other land cover across the City; (2) quantify tree cover for various geographies within the city (neighborhoods, NPUs, council districts, parks, zoning and land use, watersheds, stream buffers); (3) establish a baseline for measuring canopy change over time; (4) identify planting sites; and (5) summarize and make recommendations based on findings.
The research team identified and measured the existing tree canopy in the City of Atlanta through the analysis of high resolution, multi-spectral, “leaf-on” Quickbird satellite imagery obtained by the city in October 2008 from Digital Globe Inc. The analysis was accomplished utilizing both established and newly developed land cover classification techniques. The project team also developed coverage area data for two other general land classes: non-tree vegetation, and non-vegetation. Accuracy assessments were conducted to validate findings.
Summary of Findings
The research team estimates that in October 2008, 47.9% (40,524 acres) of the land within the city limits was covered by urban tree canopy (UTC), 22.1% (18,722 acres) was covered by non-tree vegetation (NTV) such as grass, shrubs, and other plants; and 30.0% (25,386 acres) was covered by non-vegetation (NV) such as paved surfaces and buildings.
Urban Tree Canopy in Atlanta
Urban tree canopy coverage varies significantly across Atlanta and is strongly related to zoning and land use, with the highest concentration of existing urban tree canopy located on residential property and the lowest in the downtown area and along transportation corridors. Significant concentrations of tree cover are also found along some of Atlanta’s stream corridors. The accompanying graphics show the extent and distribution of canopy across the City of Atlanta.
Canopy Distribution Across the City
– The majority of tree canopy within Atlanta’s city limits (77%- 31,194 acres) is on single-family residential land. Single-family land makes up 60.8% of the city’s total land area.
– Multi-family residential land contains the second highest amount of the city’s total canopy (8%), followed by industrial (6%); these categories make up 9.4 % and 11.8% of the city’s total land area, respectively.
– Parks contain approximately 4.9% (2,070 acres) of the city’s total tree canopy; park land makes up 4.5% of the city’s total area.
Canopy Concentration within Selected Geographies
– 61% of all single-family residential land is tree covered.
– 40% of all multi-family residential land is tree covered.
– 20% of all land zoned commercial is tree covered.
– Densely developed areas, such as downtown, surrounding neighborhoods, and former Atlanta Housing Authority developments have less than 5% tree cover.
– Several neighborhoods in the north and southwest have more than 70% canopy coverage, particularly those along Nancy Creek and Utoy Creek.
– Among parks over 50 acres in size, canopy coverage ranges from a low of 18% at Lakewood to a high of 94% at Cascade Springs Nature Preserve.
– Canopy coverage for sub-watersheds ranges from a low of 18% in Proctor Creek to a high of 72% in Long Island Creek — canopy in 100 foot stream buffers ranges from a high of 80% along North Utoy Creek to a low of 35% along Intrenchment Creek, with a City-wide average of 65% canopy coverage within 100-ft. stream buffers.
How Does Atlanta Compare To Other Cities
At 47.9 %, Atlanta has the highest percentage of overall urban tree canopy in the nation when compared to other cities that have conducted UTC Assessments. While many variables affect the presence of tree canopy – ranging from geography and climate to development patterns, tree protection and planting policies – at the turn of the 21st century, Atlanta remains a “City in the Forest.”
Trees provide shade, clean the air, and reduce storm water runoff. Trees improve our quality of life and give us beauty, food, and habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Every day, this important resource — our urban forest — is increasingly under threat. As residents, voters, and environmental stewards, we want Atlanta’s elected officials and community leaders to know that we all care about the trees in our city.
The results of the Georgia Tech Urban Tree Canopy Assessment will benefit the City of Atlanta in multiple ways. The City can immediately use the findings to:
– Refine policies and set canopy goals to ensure that each area of the City receives the benefits of a healthy canopy and that the overall tree canopy is maintained and increased over time.
– Establish baseline tree cover information from which the City can measure and track progress.
– Establish an Urban Forestry Master Plan for achieving canopy goals.
– Educate the public about tree canopy in Atlanta through an online, interactive map accessible from the City’s website.
– Streamline the identification of potential planting locations based on derived ratios of UTC to Non-Tree Vegetation. Inform sustainability efforts and policy decisions related to climate, water and air quality, tree preservation and watershed protection.
– Establish a methodology to ensure comparability against results from future UTC studies.
The data generated by this research project will serve as a guide to Atlanta’s policy makers, a resource for its citizens, and a tool for planners and others concerned about Atlanta’s urban forest.
Tree Protection Ordinances
Where Can I find my local Tree Protection Ordinance?
Both cities and counties enforce Tree Protection Ordinances, so if you live within the limits of any city, you need to contact your city council members. If you live in an unincorporated portion of the county, you will need to contact your County Commissioners.
Cities of the metropolitan Atlanta area and their municipality websites:
Seven Good Reasons to support you local Tree Protection Ordinance
- It protects existing trees and older “specimen” trees, not just require replanting to “replace” trees that are cut down.
- It focuses on planning for tree save areas at the earliest stages of the development process, not as an unfeasible afterthought. A tree plan should be submitted at the same time as the development plant.
- It requires planting shade trees in parking lots and along streets where appropriate. Parking lots contribute greatly to the “heat island effect”, and should be planned with shade trees in the design to offset this problem. Street trees are also important, but large overstory trees, such as oaks and maples, should not be planted directly under power lines where they will not be allowed to achieve their shade or aesthetic potential.
- It protects trees from unnecessary damage during construction.
- It requires sufficient amounts of replanting when trees must be cut down.
- It requires that trees along public streets be pruned in a healthy and aesthetic manner.
- It sets the goal of no net loss of trees over time in a given area.
How to Save a Tree
Research shows that mature trees capture more carbon, filter more particulate matter to reduce air pollution, capture more stormwater, create shade to mitigate the impact of urban heat islands and reduce energy use, and many other environmental and health benefits. If you’re concerned about trees in your community being removed, here are steps you can take for trees on public and private land.
Q: Somebody in my neighborhood is taking down a tree and I think the tree is alive/should not be cut down. Who do I call?
A: If you are in Atlanta, call the City Arborist’s department at 404-330-6836 and ask them if the City has issued a permit to remove a tree at _____ (give location.) Give as much information as you can about the tree, and be sure to leave a voice message if you do not reach a staff person. You can also send an email to ParksCustomerService@AtlantaGa.Gov.
If no permit exists, report that to the Arborist Department. If you are outside Atlanta city limits, you have to call the city or the county government for your city or county. The Blue Pages of the phone book will give you those phone numbers.
Q: There is a yellow sign posted saying that some trees are going to be removed. What do I do if I want to save the trees?
A: Call Kathyrn Evans at the City of Atlanta 404-330-6235 (or call 404-865-8487 to get referred to her). She can give you the information for filing a legal challenge to the tree removal.
What to Do if the City is Removing a Tree:
- Find out why the tree is being removed. Many cities post information regarding tree removals online, as well as dates for public hearings.
- Be aware that sometimes trees need to be removed. They may be dead, damaged, or diseased. They may pose a serious safety hazard. The wrong species may have been planted, or the tree may have been planted in an inappropriate location.
- Check local municipal code for any tree protection ordinances. Ensure that appropriate municipal codes are being followed. Most codes can be found on your city’s website or check here.
- Contact the city department responsible for removal. Call your local division of urban forestry for information about street tree removal. You can also write a letter of objection to your city forester. Get a list of state urban and community foresters.
- Contact your City Council representatives. It is their job to help you communicate with the city and represent your interests. Explain your concerns and reasoning, and be persistent.
- Talk with your neighbors and inform them about any public hearings. They may not know about the tree removal and the benefits that will be lost. Urge them to contact elected officials and speak up. The more people expressing concern in the community, the better the chance of saving the tree.
- The facts are in your favor. Consult some of ACTrees’ documents and research on the benefits of trees to help make your case.
- Money talks. Determine the dollar value of the benefits provided by the tree in question using the National Tree Benefit Calculator.
- Start a petition. Include names and contact information of supporters to send to your City Arborist or City Council representative.
- Get the media on your side. Contact the press about the tree removal to help generate awareness and explain why this tree is important. A newspaper article, letter to the editor, blog post, or TV news story can go a long way.
If the tree must be removed, work with the city or a Trees Atlanta to ensure that another appropriate tree will be planted in the same area or nearby to replace it.
What to Do if your Neighbor, Landlord, or Developer is cutting down a tree on Private Property:
- Talk with the property owner to find out the reason for the removal. If the reason is aesthetic, share your concerns and information on the benefits of trees. If they believe the tree poses a hazard of some sort, see if you can compromise or help find a feasible solution to keep the tree.
- Rally support from neighbors. The collective voice of many neighbors may encourage the property owner to preserve the tree. This may be especially helpful in apartment complexes. A strong response from residents may help convince a building manager or owner to preserve trees.
- Private trees of a certain species or size may be protected by city law. Check your city’s municipal code for ordinances related to tree protection. If a tree is protected, inform the person planning to remove the tree, as they may not know about the law. If the ordinance is being violated, you can also call the City Arborist for assistance. There may be fines and replacement requirements for removing protected trees. Ensure enforcement of any law.
- Consult a professional. Homeowners may want to remove a tree because they believe it is poses a hazard or will cause damage to a structure. You can hire an arborist or other tree care professional to assess the situation. They can often find a way to mitigate hazards and save the tree. Keep in mind that there will likely be a fee for the consultation. Find a qualified arborist here or here.
- If the tree is cut down, consider working with your neighbor or landlord to plant a new tree.Evaluate the site to determine if another appropriate tree can be planted in the same location or nearby.
In general, remember to look into your city’s municipal code for any tree protection ordinances. If there aren’t any, lobby your City Council to enact an ordinance protecting certain types of trees in certain situations. Learn more about tree ordinances.
If your city has an ordinance or once one is enacted, help to make your fellow citizens aware of it and involved in enforcing it. You can also check if your city has an urban forestry program. If not, write or call your Mayor and Council to encourage them to create a program to promote and protect the urban tree canopy.
If you need professional assistance with your tree, feel free to consult with an arborist who specializes in the care of individual trees. Arborists are knowledgeable about the needs of trees and are trained and equipped to provide proper care.
When in doubt about questions of tree care or health, a certified arborist or your County Extension Agent is an excellent resource to consult.
You can find professional, accredited arborists recommended from these Trees Atlanta partners:
- The Georgia Arborist Association is an organization that brings together tree care professionals and enthusiasts for the betterment and protection of Georgia’s trees. Consult their search engine to find professional arborists in your area.
- International Society of Aboriculture for an ISA-Certified Arborist. Search their Trees Are Good database here.
- The Georgia Forestry Commission also maintains a list of arborists and consulting urban foresters
Remember that good care and preventive maintenance is the best way to ensure the health and longevity of your beautiful trees!
Canopy Conversations are about informing concerned residents on the state of the canopy in the City of Atlanta and their own neighborhood. In a series of localized presentations in various neighborhoods, Trees Atlanta will be discussing canopy coverage, notable trees collections or specimens in their area (many enjoy being home to one or more Champion Trees), and offering resources and strategies for protecting and conserving the trees in their own neighborhoods.
Among our neighborhoods, canopy coverage ranges widely from a high of 83% in Butner-Tell to a low of 3% in Downtown. You might be surprised to find out where your neighborhood ranks. Trees Atlanta can schedule a community meeting with you to conduct a Canopy Conversation (info below). Meanwhile please explore the Tree Canopy data tool developed by Georgia Tech for Trees Atlanta, made possible by funding from the City of Atlanta and the Google Fund of Tides Foundation.
To request a Canopy Conversation for your neighborhood, please contact Christina Gibson at Christina@TreesAtlanta.org. Scheduled neighborhood Canopy Conversations will be posted on our calendar of events along with all of our many youth and adult education programs, community events, and volunteer projects.