Excerpted from ATLANTAPROTECTSTREES.ORG
Often in nearly the same breath we say we love trees, especially great old trees, but then shrug our shoulders and say “oh well” when these great trees are cut down. And in Atlanta’s new building boom, it continues to happen over and over again. Though Atlanta defines itself by its great trees, there currently exists no protection for existing trees in the City of Atlanta and in most of the greater metro area. There is no protection even for rarest and best.
The rarest and best is exactly what we have at the 145 Norwood road property in Atlanta’s historic Kirkwood neighborhood. Located downhill from the street, many residents may not immediately see how large and spectacular this ancient grove of oaks really is — but walk back under their branches, look up, and you will experience the the astounding height and breadth of an amazing and nearly flawless canopy that make these the tree equivalent of great whales or wise old elephants.
One tree, the oldest of the group, has a canopy spread that is likely the largest in our region-this is the DeKalb County Champion White Oak. All the trees are perfect in health. And in looking into the canopy you can see that out of the 6 great trees on the property, there is barely one branch missing among them all — impressive considering they are likely 150 years old or more with the oldest possible being up to 300. Just think of all the the thunderstorms and hurricanes that have swept over this historic hilltop (near Battle of Atlanta sites) over the last 150 years - yet these great trees have barely lost even one branch!
Right now, all of the great trees, including the DeKalb Champion White Oak, are scheduled to be cut down any day and replaced by a high-impact suburban-style housing development consisting of 11 houses and a retention pond on 2+ acres. The site plan shows no effort was made to protect any of the trees. The design merely maximizes the number of houses that can be squeezed onto the property. Even conservation zoning was an option, but it was not employed. The city does not require any of the trees to be saved. There will not be enough space for over-story trees to grow to maturity. Ever.
The penalty for removing all the trees (over 60 trees) on the two acres, including healthy smaller trees is $10K. In the City of Atlanta there is a maximum recompense fee of $5K per acre. The appraised value, using the trunk formula method from the 9th addition of plant appraisal, of just the largest tree alone was over $70K. This does not incorporate the ecosystem values the trees also provide (e.g. carbon storage, water interception, pollution removal).
Old growth trees such as these cannot be ‘re-planted.’ One of the reasons these trees are so healthy and have such longevity is because they are growing in old, undisturbed soils, which contain complex networks of mycorrhizal fungi, and other microorganisms that work in partnership with trees to keep them healthy. When the natural health of soils is destroyed by grading, newly planted trees will not live as long or as healthily as our older growth trees. These trees are ecologically irreplaceable.
Many neighborhood and Atlanta residents feel that Atlanta can do better by its trees, and hope to work with the developer, the City of Atlanta, and conservation organizations to preserve the great stand of oaks, restore the site overall, and create a nature education park for children and adults. In just the last few years, scientists have learned much about how spending time with trees and in natural places is important to our health and well-being. Trees even give off chemicals that literally make us healthy when we breath them in, such as monoterpenes and others. Richard’s Louv's’ acclaimed book “Last Child in the Woods,” shows how children with ADHD were cured of symptoms just by spending time in natural places.
This century will be defined by our relationship with nature, let’s hope we can preserve and appreciate the best trees we have in Atlanta before they are lost forever.