Dear Decaturish – Save Decatur’s Trees
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Perhaps you and your readers have seen these signs wondered how do we “Save Decatur’s Trees”? A growing number of residents are calling on the City of Decatur to take a balanced approach and update the Tree Ordinance to preserve more of our existing trees. Decatur and greater Atlanta are unique with remaining urban forest that many consider our best and most important natural asset. The vast majority, approximately 85 percent, of our trees and forest remnants are in residential yards.
We have all seen property lots that look like this.
This reflects the increasing trend to build much larger homes often with detached garages that result in clear-cutting and mass-grading the entire property. This approach not only impacts the existing trees, but it also destroys the soil, a precious non-renewable resource. Preserving the existing high-value green infrastructure provides exponentially more value to the community and city than replanting trees in disturbed, unhealthy soil with inadequate space for maturity. For example, a single mature white oak in our area can intercept more than 20,000 gallons of stormwater runoff each year.
As it stands now, the current tree ordinance requires saving only 25 percent of the tree canopy; however, a developer/builder can count canopy on an adjacent lot, effectively allowing it to be clear-cut. Trees on the adjacent lot are not adequately protected, so destroying the roots of boundary trees during construction can result in further canopy loss next door. There is no priority given for high-value native trees, such as our mature oaks; so often what might be saved on a lot are smaller trees on property edges. While Decatur’s stated goal is 50 percent tree canopy coverage overall, after you subtract the area for roads, parking lots, buildings etc, the land area left for trees is only in a small number of parks and residential yards; therefore, when our tree ordinance only requires saving 25 percent of the trees in yards, we are actually losing far more than 75 percent of our tree canopy.
The consequential effects of having an ineffective tree ordinance that does not preserve a sustainable number of trees are felt by the community and costs are passed on to citizens. Trees improve our overall quality of life with quantifiable benefits to climate change, stormwater management, air and water quality, property value, public safety, economic development, natural habitat and human health. The most recent scientific report regarding climate change released by 13 national agencies at the end of 2018 outlines ominous global consequences of climate change, with a call for urgent action. A real and effective local action is to conserve Decatur’s trees and remaining urban forest.
In the past, the City of Decatur has been a leader with ordinances to manage stormwater and provide protection for our waterways. Currently, the city has a stormwater master planning initiative underway. Trees and natural infrastructure, which appreciate over time, are critical elements of an integrated, comprehensive approach. We, along with approximately 700 petition signers, respectfully call upon the City to lead the way by protecting existing trees now to ensure our community remains resilient and sustainable for us and future generations.
To learn more, please consider reviewing details at https://www.change.org/p/save-decatur-s-trees
Tricia Appleton, Betty Blondeau, Alvin Burrell, Cherie Kunik, Eve Poling, Clark Poling, Lynne Rosner, Marcia Wasserman