TTND Response to City's First Draft Tree Protection Ordinance

Here is our feedback to the City's first draft of the Tree Protection Ordinance rewrite.  To submit your own, click here.

Arborist Sign Postings Now Online!

The orange and yellow sign property postings on private property are now listed by zip code on the City Arborist Division's website. Please click here to see which trees may be coming down near you, and when the deadlines are to file an appeal.

Sign postings on public property may be found here.

latest news flash


Tree Removal Trends (thru 1st Qtr 2020)

2020 1st Quarter Report* Confirms a Clear Trend:
Most Trees Being Removed as DDH -- or Illegally Destroyed

While total tree loss dipped by 9% this most recent quarter, there has been a 7% increase in total tree loss in the first three quarters of FY 2020 due to a greater number of trees being permitted as DDH (dead, dying or hazardous) or destroyed illegally. Legal removal of healthy trees due to constuction is actually down for the year compared to the previous three fiscal years. 

(Click on the picture below for an expanded view.)

trend lines

Trees Permitted as DDH Up 27%

Overall, the number of trees being permitted as DDH is up 27% over the past three quarters compared to FY 2019. This increase is due both to a 22% increase in DDH tree permit requests this fiscal year, with the approval rate increasing from 81% in FY 2019 to 86% in the first three quarters of FY 2020.  

For every tree that is legally permitted to be removed, we are losing 1.5 more trees as DDH.  Because the number of trees being removed as DDH correlate with the number of healthy trees being permitted for construction, it appears that construction may be driving many of these DDH permits. Otherwise, the Arborist Division should investigate the possibility of an infestation causing so many more trees than usual to be dying.

As we have seen in the past, DDH trees this past quarter were signifantly larger (19.2" DBH) than healthy trees permitted for removal (15.5" DBH).

Illegal Tree Cutting Reaches Record Proportions: Over 1 in 10 Healthy Trees Cut Illegally

Despite an overall drop in trees being cut this past quarter, illegal tree cutting remained about the same this past quarter.  Overall, there has been an 22% increase in illegal tree destruction in the first three quarters of FY 2020 compared to FY 2019.  5% of all trees (including DDH) and 12% of non-DDH trees were illegally destroyed in the 1st quarter of 2020.

And, as we have seen with DDH trees, trees illegally cut this past quarter were also significantly larger (19.6" DBH) than legally cut healthy trees (15.5" DBH).

(Click on the picture below for an expanded view.)

number of permitted trees by type


Fewer Non-DDH permits Issued for Third Consecutive Quarter

1,535 healthy trees were permitted to be removed in the 1st quarter of 2020, indicating an overall trend over the past three quarters towards fewer trees being legally permitted to be cut. Overall, permitted healthy trees are down 14% in the first three quarters of FY 2020 compared to FY 2019, but the increase in DDH and illegally destroyed trees have resulted in a 7% increase in total tree loss.

(Click on the picture below for an expanded view.)

trees lost and replaced

Replanting is Up This Past Quarter

The is a clear positve trend of tree replanting being approved during plan reviews: 110% of the permitted non-DDH trees this past quarter were scheduled to be replanted, compared to 98% and 87% the previous two quarters.  Last year, only 81% of the destroyed trees were scheduled to be replanted.

However, for the first three quarters of FY 2020, only 8% of the total inches at breast height (DBH) were scheduled to be replaced, meaning we still had a 92% loss in tree trunk inches.

(Click on the picture below for an expanded view.)

inches lost and replaced


Implications for the Tree Ordinance Rewrite:

DDH Designations

Given that DDH trees are up 27% over the past six months, and the approval rate continues to climb, the standard of practice for evaluating DDH trees needs to be strengthened and there needs to be greater public notification in advance of trees being removed as DDH.  A tree inspection report conducted by a developer-hired arborist should never be accepted at face value by the city arborist.  All trees to be removed as DDH must be inspected by a city arborist before any permit is issued and that inspection report should be posted online for residents to view.

DDH designations are often used by developer-hired arborists as a way to avoid replacement or recompense fees.  Although all trees permitted as DDH should be verified by a city arborist, we have examples of when they have not been.  The fact that DDH trees are not appealable is a loophole in the current Tree Ordinance that can be exploited. Atlanta residents should have the right to appeal a DDH decision if the city arborist provides insufficient evidence as to why a tree has been designated as DDH.

Illegal Tree Cutting

With the rate of illegal tree cutting having doubled these past two quarters, it's time for the City to take immediate action to address the lack of meaningful penalties in the Tree Ordinance.  The Tree Ordinance is being flaunted at this point as it is often less expensive to take trees down illegally than go through the permitting  process and risk having the preliminary approval to remove trees be appealed. Also, trees are being destroyed illegally by ignoring tree save fencing or using improper construction practices to protect healthy trees. 

With penalties for illegal tree destruction being only $500 for the first tree and $1000 for every tree after that (in addition to replacement/recompense fees), there is not enough incentive in the current Tree Ordinance to protect trees.

Tree Replanting

It is encouraging to see the arborists are securing more tree replantings as part of the plan review process, but these replanted trees don't begin to replace the canopy lost. We still have 92% of the tree trunk inches lost (including trees designated as DDH) not being replanted.  DDH trees comprise 62% of the tree trunk inches lost, which means no recompense is being collected for over half of our lost tree canopy.  Only 30% of our tree trunk inches lost are being recompensed.

But even then, the 30% of tree inches being recompensed are not being replanted.  Only a quarter of the recompense monies deposited in the Tree Trust Fund (TTF) each year is being used primariy for tree replanting.  Most is being spent on salaries and other administrative costs, as well as buying forested land.  To add insult to injury, we recently discovered that the TTF has been continuously used to pay for additional non-approved salaries and benefits, which means the fund is now running a shortfall of $3.3 million.  And Atlanta's City Council recently voted to spend additional millions of recompense money from the Tree Trust Fund to pay for Lake Charlotte park improvement projects instead of tree replanting, thus further cementing a permanent loss in our tree canopy.  Some of the money that was supposed to replace lost trees actually went to build a parking lot!

The only way we can achieve no net loss of canopy is to have a Tree Ordinance that ensures lost trees will be replaced inch-for-inch, and that the Tree Trust Fund recompense monies will stop being used for expenses that don't replace our destroyed tree canopy.

Quarterly Report Requirements

Last quarter we had to wait over six weeks to get the quarterly report; this quarter we waited over 11 weeks.  We know the quarterly reports can be released sooner given the first quarterly report we received (3rd quarter 2019) was available within a couple of weeks after the end of the quarter. The new Tree Ordinance needs to stipulate a publication date for the quarterly reports so that we don't keep encountering these type of delays.  And it needs to be published on a quarterly basis so we don't have to wait a full year to see that signifcant changes are happening in how trees are being removed, as we have seen these past three quarters with DDH and illegally cut trees.

*This analysis includes trees on private property only, which are managed by the Arborist Division. Does not include trees on public property, which are managed by the Department of Parks and Recreation.


See a tree coming down? Click here for what to do!

And click here to contact your City Council representatives and the UEF Project Team about the Tree Ordinance Rewrite.

Need to Look Up a Permit?

Click here for instructions on how to look up a tree cuting permit in Accela, the City of Atlanta's online permitting database.  If you already know how to use Accela, click here to go straight to the database.

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