Dear editor – Trees worth protecting

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt March 3, 2014

Editor’s note: This is our first official letter to the editor. I hope we get more of them. To submit a letter on a topic that interests you, send it to

Backyard water oak. Photo by Kathryn Kolb, courtesy of Trees Decatur

Backyard water oak. Photo by Kathryn Kolb, courtesy of Trees Decatur

Dear Editor,

Decatur is losing tree canopy. The rate of canopy destruction is increasing, as evidenced by the increasing number of demolition and building permits for larger homes, as well as visual observation of removal of large trees. A study by The University of Georgia’s Natural Resource Spatial Analysis Laboratory (NARSAL) in 2008, as well as a 2010 study of aerial photographs commissioned by the City of Decatur, both confirm our tree canopy loss.

Based on these studies, just to break even and maintain our existing canopy, we’d need several hundred large trees to reach full size each year. Every time we lose a ninety-year-old specimen tree, we lose tree canopy that will take decades to replace.

Sure, some of these trees are reaching the end of their natural life spans. Many others, like white oaks and tulip poplars, can live centuries when allowed to thrive.

So the question is, what do we do about it?

Trees Decatur is an all-volunteer group of residents, neighbors, and business owners working together to preserve and enhance the healthy tree canopy of the City of Decatur, Georgia. With numbers growing, our group seeks to do this through community education, partnerships and advocacy for improved management of Decatur’s urban forest. More information can be found on our website,

Members and friends of Trees Decatur agree with our neighbors who say we need to plant more trees. We also see the need for a strong but fair tree ordinance, one that will reward property owners who preserve tree canopy, as well as motivating developers to build without cutting gaping holes in that canopy.

Visit our website to learn about recommended changes to the January 2014 draft Tree Canaopy Preservation Ordinance that would remove the undue burden to homeowners who are largely not responsible for removal of large healthy trees and canopy in our community.

• Do you want to cut down an unhealthy or dangerous tree in your yard? Nothing’s stopping you – even with the current ordinance.

• Do you want to cut down a tree that you just want to get rid of, for whatever reason? Nothing would stop you if our recommendations are adopted, unless a) that tree is on the border with your neighbor’s property or b) you sell your property in the next 18 months (a provision that exists in the ordinance that’s in effect today).

• Are you maintaining healthy tree canopy on your lot? We support more incentives to reward this activity, which benefits not only you but the neighborhood and community as a whole. For example, a stormwater utility credit and/issuance of a certificate of recognition from the city. Developers who preserve specimen trees could benefit from fast-track permitting and/or special recognition for use in marketing specific homes.

• If a property owner is pulling a demolition or land disturbance permit, our recommendations would require preservation of just over one-third of the existing healthy tree canopy on the lot. If more than 65 percent of the existing healthy tree canopy is removed as part of the project, the property owner pays into the city’s tree bank, on a sliding scale based on the percentage of canopy removed. Those proceeds are then used to plant new trees on public property.

• In situations where the ordinance is invoked, the property owner would be able to apply for a variance and go through an exception process, including public notification and a hearing.

We look forward to working with everyone to finalize and adopt an effective ordinance that will serve as one of several tools to promote a healthy and beautiful tree canopy in our community. One thing upon which all Decatur residents can agree is that we are fortunate to live in a beautiful urban forest that is important to us. The trees that surround us are not only aesthetically pleasing. They provide benefits to our community that are impossible to achieve from any other single source. Just one mature white oak intercepts more than 12,000 gallons of stormwater runoff in a year and reduces more than 1,300 pounds of atmospheric carbon annually. This same tree will conserve 242 Kilowatt / hours of electricity for cooling and reduce consumption of oil or natural gas by 8 therms. Large trees can increase the value of a home by 15 percent and lower energy bills in the summer by providing shade.

This incredible resource is worth the effort it takes to protect it. Let’s all work together to make that happen.

– Trees Decatur

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

  • Ron Harris

    Why does the City of Decatur need tree canopy coverage at or near the current
    canopy? What defines the optimal canopy for a city with our dynamics?
    Not hating on trees. Just wondering why we need to do something about it
    ahead of proving that something needs to be done. Thanks.

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