Atlanta Finds Its Identity as Tree Haven Is Threatened

By Robbie Brown
Atlanta, GA (July 21, 2011)- The sprawling canopy of magnolias, water oaks and pines that earned Atlanta the nickname “The City in a Forest” is looking significantly thinner these days.


Giant hickories have fallen. Hundred-year-old oaks are dying. And thousands and thousands of less recognized trees have ended up in the woodpile after a brutal season that arborists describe as a perfect storm for this city’s famous leafy landscape.
Local tree leaders Greg Levine of Trees Atlanta and arborist Peter Jenkins discuss this New York Times article in a video by the local news channel 11 Alive:

In any city, people would carp about blocked roadways or damaged roofs. But in Atlanta, trees mean more. With 27 percent of the city covered with trees, Atlanta charges up to $1,000 to cut down a single one, even with permission. You need only flip through an Atlanta travel brochure, with its references to Peachtree Road or the Dogwood Festival, to understand why Jasen Johns, a city arborist, says, “Trees define Atlanta.”
That is also why the city’s self-described tree-huggers are so concerned that Atlanta is losing trees at an unusually rapid rate. The die-off has multiple causes: a severe drought, a series of powerful storms, a surge of invasive species and pests and the natural deaths of older trees planted during the creation of the city’s first planned neighborhoods in the early 1900s.
“We’re in emergency mode,” Mr. Johns said. “I’ve never seen this many down trees.” The city does not track the number of lost trees. But everywhere from the Georgia Forestry Commission to the telephone companies that send out repair crews, Atlantans are noticing gaps in the canopy.
“It changes the city dramatically,” said Angel Poventud, 39, a train conductor who has encountered fallen trees on the railroad tracks and less shade during bike rides. “Maybe I’m hypersensitive, but I feel like I notice when even one big tree is missing.”
The biggest factor in the deforestation, which some residents have called Treepocalypse, has been the steadily bad weather. Although Atlanta was spared the tornadoes that left other parts of the South barren this spring, it caught the residual strong winds, which wreaked havoc on drought-weakened trees. Winds above 50 miles an hour tore through the city on four different days, bringing down some trees that had been alive since the mid-19th century.
A laundry list of other threats – fungal diseases like root rot, a rare type of caterpillar and an invasive Japanese insect that kills hemlocks – have all caused losses. And then there is a matter of timing: many of the city’s water oaks, which live about 80 or 90 years, were planted in the 1920s to line new neighborhoods like Ansley Park.
All of this has created a huge backlog of work at the city’s parks office. Arborists have sometimes been working 24-hour days. Yet, by the end of June, there were still 261 fallen trees and 938 stumps on public land that had not been removed.
Soon comes the task of replanting. But for now it is too hot, according to Trees Atlanta, a nonprofit group that has planted 75,000 trees since the 1980s. So instead the group is signing up volunteers for the fall and holding fund-raiser events to support buying more trees. Arborists say they have noticed more caution, with more Atlantans having sick trees inspected and removed out of fear that they will come down less gently on their own.
“Trees need as much help as they can get,” said Robby Astrove, the chief foraging officer for a local group called Concrete Jungle that harvests and donates fruit from public trees. “After this round of storms and falling trees, there’s a lot of fear and animosity toward trees. It’s just not fair.”
This is not a new problem. As in many cities, the pace of development in the past few decades has felled a large number of trees – roughly 60 percent in Atlanta since the 1980s, according to Marcia D. Bansley, a former director of Trees Atlanta.
Chris Hastings, the owner of a private tree removal company, ArborMedics, dismissed the idea that the city’s image had been significantly altered by this year’s losses. “For every tree you see lying on the ground, there are a hundred still standing,” he said. “There are streets that have been denuded. But overall, driving around, I don’t think anyone is going to look around and say, ‘Wow, Atlanta is no longer a city in the forest.’ ”
Related Resources:
New York Times- Atlanta Finds Its Identity as Tree Haven is Threatened
Trees Atlanta
11Alive News- NYT: Atlanta facing ‘Treepocalypse’