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Atlanta to invest nearly $1 million in tree planting, programs about urban forest

Tree canopy, Atlanta Botanical Garden

Atlanta intends to plant about 4,000 trees over the next 18 months to enhance the city's tree canopy, which is accessible to pedestrians who stroll along the Canopy Walk at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Credit: 1460daysofgeorgia.wordpress.com

By David Pendered

Trees Atlanta is slated to plant about 4,000 trees throughout Atlanta and provide various programs to teach people about the importance of trees, according to legislation pending before the Atlanta City Council.

Tree canopy, Atlanta Botanical Garden

Atlanta intends to plant about 4,000 trees over the next 18 months to enhance the city’s tree canopy, which is accessible to pedestrians who stroll along the Canopy Walk at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Credit: 1460daysofgeorgia.wordpress.com

The tree-planting program is part of Atlanta’s ongoing effort to maintain its tree canopy. The canopy covers 47.9 percent of the entire city, making Atlanta the most densely covered city in the country. But the canopy varies widely by area, according to a 2014 analysis conducted on behalf of the Department of Planning and Community Development.

For example, North Buckhead has the densest canopy, at 71 percent. The least dense tree canopy, at 8 percent, is in an area spanning downtown Atlanta, Castleberry Hill, Old Fourth Ward, and Sweet Auburn, according to the analysis completed by Georgia Tech and released by the Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission, a citizen group appointed by the mayor and council.

Trees are to be planted starting in mid October and all trees are to be planted by April 15, 2017. Trees Atlanta is to tend each tree for two years, and replace any that die. The decision on who’s to pay for the replacement tree, meaning Trees Atlanta or the city, depends on the circumstances of the tree’s death.

The legislation aims to provide about 3,400 trees in areas where the tree canopy is less than 48 percent, based on a study completed in 2008.

Tree canopy by council district

Atlanta’s tree canopy covers 47.9 percent of the city, but the density varies widely from one Atlanta City Council district to another. Credit: “Assessing Urban Tree Canopy in the city of Atlanta”

The remaining 600 trees, or so, are to be divided among Atlanta’s 15 council districts. Each of the 12 district councilmembers is be asked to submit a request that recommends areas in need of trees, and is to receive 40 trees. Each of the three citywide districts, the at-large posts, is to receive 40 trees at locations recommended by the at-large councilmembers.

The legislation doesn’t say much about what types of trees are to be selected, other than that they are to be healthy and planted at the appropriate time of year for the species. Atlanta Parks Commissioner Amy Phuong is to be authorized to request certain species and certain locations for trees.

Each tree is to be a “15 gallon tree.” It’s a common size and provides a tree from 6 feet to 12 feet high, with a diameter of half-inch to one inch, according to a report on oclandscape.com.

The city has agreed to pay Trees Atlanta, a non-profit organization, up to $912,250 for its services. The money is to come from Atlanta’s Tree Trust Fund. The fund gets its money from fees paid by developers and homeowners as recompense for trees that are cut down on private property.

Here’s how the proposed budget breaks down:

  • Tree planting – up to $813,750;
  • 24 tree walks, about two hours long and guided by a certified arborist, horticulturist, or landscape architect – $12,000;
    Tree canopy by NPU

    Atlanta’s tree canopy varies widely by neighborhood planning district. Credit: “Assessing Urban Tree Canopy in the city of Atlanta”

  • Two programs, of 21 hours, to teach people to be tree stewards – $9,800;
  • 14 tree pruning classes, about 2.5 hours of hands-on training – $7,200;
  • 22 events in a speakers series that’s free to the audience – $33,000;
  • 150 classroom visits to teach students in grades kindergarten through 12th the importance of urban forests – $33,000;
  • A hands-on certification program for 100 students, in elementary and middle school grades, about the urban forest – $5,000.

The legislation is to be discussed Wednesday by members of the council’s Finance Committee and could be voted on by the full council as early as Oct. 5.

Trees Atlanta was founded in 1985 and had planted 100,000 by 2014, according to a report on its website. In the time before crowds arrived in Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, Trees Atlanta planted 318 trees in and around Centennial Olympic Park.

Marcia Bansley was the organization’s first executive director and was a fixture at the city’s cultural and civic events. Bansley retired in 2011 and was succeeded by two co-executive directors, Connie Veates and Greg Levine.

Tree canopy 2008

Atlanta intends to plant about 3,400 trees in areas where the canopy is less than 48 percent, based on this map from an analysis conducted in 2008. Credit: “Assessing Urban Tree Canopy in the city of Atlanta”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. urban gardener September 29, 2015 1:11 pm

    Meanwhile, tree advocates cannot get the updated tree ordinance passed to protect what tree canopy we still have, which is disappearing by the acre by the week.

    When mature canopy trees are cut down and the earth churned, the soil structure is destroyed. All the microbes essential for tree health are killed, the soil compacted to a brick, top soil with nutrients scraped away.
    Ever wonder why parking lot trees, by and large, look so yellow, sickly and weak?

    Destroyed soil, poorly chosen tree species for replacement, no open soil for rain water capture and root expansion, and bad planting jobs, all done in a sea of griddle-hot asphalt.
    Every time I see a ‘rendering’ of what a new development is going to look like, with lovely mid-sized trees providing shade and better air quality, I cringe.
    Planting back a small fringe of trees around a huge square of heat-generating development (concrete, asphalt, HVAC units, reflective glass) does nothing meaningful to replace the acres of trees destroyed, nor help mitigate the growing heat-island effects of large scale development nor improve air quality.Report

  2. Chad Carlson September 29, 2015 7:45 pm

    With the help of Trees Atlanta we have planted over 300 trees over the last five years in the Westview neighborhood.Report

  3. JayTyler September 30, 2015 3:54 pm

    so whats interesting is they are spending over 800,000 for just 4,000 trees? A 15 gallon tree at most at wholesale is 10 dollars each which would bring the cost to 40,000…..where does the extra 760,000 dollars go???  are these tress made of gold?Report

  4. EC September 30, 2015 5:49 pm

    JayTyler The tree planting cost (approx. $200 per tree) probably includes maintenance for two years and possibly replacement, as the article mentioned. ” Trees Atlanta is to tend each tree for two years, and replace any that die.”Report

  5. Burroughston Broch October 4, 2015 2:46 pm

    urban gardener  Maintaining existing tree cover does not put money in politicians’ and bureaucrats’ pockets.
    As Deep Throat advised, “Follow the money.”Report

  6. fabiocaicedo89 October 5, 2015 8:08 pm

    piedmontcaatl help us to turn Bogota in a greener city through http://igg.me/at/masarbolesmasciudades/x/12292882Report


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