On Wednesday, October 21, Steve and Marge Hays, Dave Darling, Chuck Young, and Jim Abbot pruned trees in Poplar Circle and along stretches of Hurt, Elizabeth, and Euclid. Below are (L-R) Steve, Dave, and Chuck. Our next pruning workday will be on Wednesday, November 18, at 9:00 AM. Meet at 946 Waverly Way (intersection of Waverly and Hurt).
On Saturday, October 24, Lynn Curtis Koehnemann, Dave Darling, Chuck Young, David Bikoff, and Jim Abbot cleaned and adjusted the granite markers in the Inman Park Arboretum. Below are David and Chuck resetting the marker for a pignut hickory (Carya glabra) along the Freedom Park trail.
Trees Atlanta has put together a virtual tour of the Inman Park Neighborhood Arboretum, which focuses on flowering trees. It’s absolutely fantastic. Click on the photo to go to tour.
Our physical arboretum is, however, in dire need of a great deal of maintenance: replanting trees that have died, replacing markers that have disappeared, cleaning and resetting markers, and the like. Volunteers have stepped forward to help. If you would like to join them, contact us!
WHAT IF local and national companies could buy carbon+ credits from tree projects (preservation projects and planting projects) in Atlanta, thereby investing private money efficiently and reliably into local projects that help keep Atlanta green, equitable, and livable? (Guess what, they could buy such credits, if we were willing to do the work to make it happen.)
In an earlier post, I laid out some weaknesses in the revised tree ordinance that the Department of City Planning released to the public in March.
On Thursday, June 25, the City Council’s Community Development/Human Resources Committee held a working session on the draft ordinance. The chair is Matt Westmoreland, and Amir Farokhi is a member.
I am pleased to say that in its report to the committee, City Planning announced several pending changes that would be improvements over the March draft. For example, City Planning is now proposing to use the same standards for public and private trees, enforced by arborists gathered into a single office. To give another example, the earlier draft’s overly complicated “tree significance” scheme will be greatly simplified. And there’s much more, as you can see from the graphic above.
As the City actually releases its new language, I will keep you updated. We can expect to see a new draft in late August or early September, and I believe the City hopes to vote on a final version before the end of the year.
In any case, for now, I want to turn to a simple question:
What could be more mind-numbingly boring than reading a blog post about a local ordinance?
And yet here I am, asking you to do so, because the City of Atlanta is revising its tree protection ordinance, and that’s a big, big deal if you’re fond of drinking clean water, breathing clean air, and not being burned to a crisp every summer.
Anyone still reading? Okay, here’s what I’m going to try to do.
Tell you something about how Atlanta currently protects trees.
Set out the rudiments of the proposed changes to our law.
Explain how you can help ensure the best possible outcome of this process.
Part 1: Tree Protection in Atlanta
In 1977 — the year UGA lost to Pitt in the Sugar Bowl, Jimmy Carter became president, the L5P Community Pub opened for business, and Bobby Cox was hired to manage the Braves — Atlanta adopted a law regulating tree removals. It’s been revised several times since then. The principle of the tree protection ordinance (TPO) could not be simpler: most of Atlanta’s trees may be privately owned, but they’re also a public good like clean air. The basic mechanism to protect Atlanta’s trees is simple, too: require those who remove trees to seek approval from the city and then replant on site or, if that’s not possible, to pay into a fund that can provide money for replanting of trees elsewhere in the city.
In a sense, everything else about the ordinance is just details. The fundamental principle and mechanism have been in place for years. In a different sense, everything has changed since the TPO’s early days. Here are just a few of the things that are different today versus yesterday:
The city has fewer trees than in 1977.
The metro area has many more people and much more pavement than in 1977.
Average temperatures are hotter, due to climate change and the urban heat island effect.
The required payment (“recompense”) for tree-removal-without-replanting no longer appears to function as a strong incentive to preserve as many trees as possible or as a strong deterrent to unnecessary removal of trees. For some developers, it’s just the cost of doing business.
Enforcement of the ordinance by the city is hampered by inadequate staffing and bureaucratic inefficiencies.
Money in the Tree Trust Fund has been siphoned off for many ancillary purposes, e.g., to pay the salaries of city arborists.
The growing complexity and spotty enforcement of the law increasingly frustrate and befuddle the public.
We know a LOT more about the ecology of urban forests and the ecosystem benefits of trees than we used to know.
Atlanta has lost and continues to lose trees in the years since the ordinance was enacted. A 2001 report by American Forests, focusing on the center of the wider metropolitan area, found that heavy tree cover (>50% of land surface) had declined from 47.5% in 1974 to 26.4% in 1996. In 2012, two researchers found that over the five-year period they chose to study, Atlanta lost trees despite the ordinance. Georgia Tech’s tree canopy research indicates that as of 2014, about 48% of the city has tree canopy.
Is Atlanta’s existing TPO a dud, a failure, a travesty? Not at all. Despite everything, it’s done some great work for us. Without it, we would certainly be in much worse shape. But we do need a reset.
Part 2: Draft TPO 1.0
The city released its first draft of a rewritten ordinance in March. This work on the ordinance is being done within a broader planning process known as the Urban Ecology Framework (UEF), which is itself part of a still broader plan for Atlanta called the Atlanta City Design, completed in 2017.
I have served as a member of a UEF stakeholder committee. Our committee contributed ideas first to a kind of concept plan for future green spaces, green connections, and green policies in Atlanta. Then work on the ordinance began, in which our committee has been much less involved. The schedule for the rewrite continues until August, as you can see below.
The headline of my interim report to you on Draft TPO 1.0 is as follows: it’s a missed opportunity. The city and its consultant Biohabitats have made the ordinance even more complicated, without clear improvements that promise more scientific, more effective protection for our trees and tree canopy.
What follows is my attempt to summarize in part what has been offered to the public. Please know that it is imperfect and incomplete. Why? Partly because the process has been highly imperfect, with key changes mid-process within the city’s planning team; subpar communication and followup with the technical and advisory committees; and release of this draft version without any annotations or without redlining to reveal the proposed changes from the existing ordinance.
It’s also imperfect and incomplete because this is a highly technical, 50-page document, encompassing minutiae on tree valuation, tree density, preservation thresholds and incentives, reasons for removal, notifications and posting, appeals process, parking lot requirements, and much, much more. Frankly, some of it is beyond my competence to assess, and it’s far beyond my ability to summarize here.
In any case, here are some highlights.
NOT A BRAND-NEW ORDINANCE
Broadly speaking, this “new “ordinance amounts to a tweaking of our existing ordinance. The city has NOT started from scratch. Instead, it has simply altered the existing ordinance.
Note that other cities have taken a more holistic and thoroughgoing approach to improving protection of their trees and forests, by better incorporating current scientific knowledge and making better use of zoning. For example, in our nation’s capital, site designs for construction are required to achieve a certain score, varying by zoning district and calculated by the green elements selected and the area of the site they cover. A number of different green elements qualify for what’s called the Green Area Ratio including permeable surfaces, vegetated roofs, bioretention, and trees.
Everything is connected — remember that, and I’ll come back to it in a moment.
I grew up in a small town in rural Georgia. Really small: not even 2,500 people (i.e., about half of Inman Park’s population). In those days and in that part of the world, children spent a lot of time outdoors. Lots and lots of time outdoors.
From an early age, therefore, older people were continually instructing us in the proper evaluation of risk. Mommy and Daddy were not going to be around to protect us from each and every danger: we children had to learn for ourselves how to live a full, active life with an acceptable level of risk. Continue reading Fear of Trees→
There are earlier posts of mine about gas-powered leaf blowers: read them here and here. Washington, D.C., recently enacted a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, to take full effect by 2022. The journalist James Fallows and his wife Deb were among a small group of neighborhood activists who started working toward this in 2015. You can read here a short article by Fallows at The Atlantic with links to additional information.
What equipment will be used? If you are told that a crane or boom lift is necessary, ask why the work can’t be done by tree workers climbing with ropes.
How will they clean up your property at the completion of the removal or pruning?
Exercise some due diligence. If you spot a tree worker in a boom lift (see photo above) wielding an unsecured chainsaw without any protective gear at all (hardhat, safety glasses, earplugs, gloves), you’ve hired the wrong company. If workers seem to you to be insufficiently careful around the chipper, you’ve hired the wrong company. Ask them to stop work immediately and insist on speaking with a manager.
Note that some tree services are investing in electric equipment and committing to practices that are better for the environment. If you can afford to pay a little extra for that service, you will be encouraging other companies to do the same.
Here’s an earlier post on this website about selecting a tree service company.
Hiring a Lawn Service?
Does the company offer a clean and quiet service using battery-powered and manual equipment? Does it have expertise in organic lawn and plant care?
What is the minimum number of times each month that you absolutely need this service? Do you need it year-round, e.g., even in winter?
Can the work be scheduled at a time when it is least likely that the noise will disturb your neighbors, e.g., not on a weekend and not early in the morning or late in the afternoon?
Before you sign up, do your homework. Are you breeding mosquitoes by leaving standing water on your property? Can you adequately protect yourself by applying repellent or screening a porch? What chemical will the company use, and what can you find out about that chemical by doing your own research? Are you vulnerable enough to the inconvenience of a mosquito bite or the remote chance of contracting a mosquito-borne disease that it outweighs the environmental damage caused by the spraying, e.g., the killing of bees?
Here’s a Consumer Reports article on whether to spray your yard for mosquitoes and ticks. And once again, as with anyone visiting your property to do work, insist on professionalism and adequate safety measures: if the young person misting your yard is wearing no protective equipment at all, for example, ask why.