Study Shows Savannah Tree Canopy Shrinking

Savannah, GA (July 15, 2014) — Chatham County, GA has lost the equivalent of three football fields of tree canopy every day, on average, over the last 15 years, according to an ongoing analysis commissioned by the Savannah Tree Foundation. Most of the loss is in locations where developers have razed pine plantations and natural hardwood forests to make way for houses, parking lots, warehouses, and businesses.

Savannah, GA Tree Canopy

Savannah, GA Tree Canopy

The preliminary data comes from an analysis commissioned by the Savannah Tree Foundation from Ian Hanou’s Colorado-based company, Plan-It Geo. The full report is expected in the fall, but this past week Hanou gave a presentation of results so far.

Hanou presented a map of Chatham County that shows area once covered with trees which has now been moved to development, predominantly in the western portion of the County. ACTrees member Savannah Tree Foundation conducted the first analysis of the county’s urban forest in 1993, then again in 2001, using satellite imagery each time.

According to Karen Jenkins, executive director of Savannah Tree Foundation and ACTrees Board member, the need for the latest study came in part from a 2012 disagreement about a new mausoleum near the entrance to leafy Bonaventure cemetery.

Because the crypt was built on private property, few restrictions applied. But its proximity to Savannah city property and an historic site highlighted the need for better cooperation among local governments to protect trees.

Among the recommendations from a resulting committee coordinated by the Metropolitan Planning Commission was the need for a county-wide urban forest management plan. To make such a plan, a comprehensive study was required that described the state of the urban forest.

Volunteers joined Savannah Tree Foundation to plant over 100 trees to help replace canopy lost to major road construction and to improve water quality.

Volunteers joined Savannah Tree Foundation to plant over 100 trees to help replace canopy lost to major road construction and to improve water quality.

“I hope it motivates the other communities in Chatham County to do more for their trees,” said Jenkins. “I want better trees in parking lots, better trees at schools, and I want the other communities to care.”

Hanou, who has produced studies for other cities including Washington, D.C., and Little Rock, Ark., said trees are “multi-taskers” that provide a range of benefits to people beyond their beauty. The finished analysis, which will use satellite imagery and field-based inventories, will provide economic arguments for preserving trees.

“We’ll be able to quantify the dollar benefit, based on the research that’s been done by universities and the Forest Service for about 25 years and put a dollar value on the air pollution that is mitigated by the tree canopy, the carbon that is stored and sequestered annually by the canopy, and the storm water runoff that is mitigated by the canopy,” said Hanou.

Source: Mary Landers, “Study shows tree canopy shrinking in Chatham County,” Savannah Now