Tree Removal Trends (thru 4th Qtr 2019)

2019 4th Quarter Report* Confirms a Clear Trend:
More Trees Removed as DDH or Illegally Destroyed

There has been a 10% increase in total tree loss in the first two quarters of FY 2020 (3rd & 4th quarters 2019) compared to FY 2019 due to a greater number of trees being permitted as DDH (dead, dying or hazardous) or destroyed illegally. 

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

number of permitted trees - by type

DDH Tree Permits Are Up 30%

2,461 trees were permitted as DDH (dead, dying or hazardous) in the 4th quarter of 2019, which is nearly identical to the number of trees permitted as DDH in the third quarter of 2019 (2,462).  However, these two numbers represent a 30% increase in the rate of DDH tree removal compared to FY 2019. This increase is due both to a 26% increase in DDH tree permit requests over the first two quarters of 2020 and a greater DDH tree approval rate: from 81% in FY 2019 to 84% in the first half of FY 2020.  

If DDH permitting continues at this same rate for the next two quarters, we will have lost 9,846 DDH trees by the end of FY 2000 as compared to 7,579 DDH trees in FY 2019.

Illegal Tree Cutting Reaches Record Proportions: Over 1 in 10 Non-DDH Trees Now Cut Illegally

224 trees were illegally destroyed in the 4th quarter of 2019, double the number that were illegally destroyed the quarter before (110 trees).  Overall, there has been an 11% increase in illegal tree destruction for the first half of FY 2020 compared to FY 2019.  5% of all trees (including DDH) and 11% of non-DDH trees were illegally destroyed in the 4th quarter of 2019.

Fewer Non-DDH permits Issued for Second Consecutive Quarter

1,745 healthy trees were permitted to be removed in the 4th quarter, nearly identical to the number of permitted healthy tree removals the previous quarter (1,747). Overall, permitted healthy trees in the first two quarters of FY 2020 (3rd & 4th quarters 2019) are down 10% compared to FY 2019, but the increase in DDH and illegally destroyed trees have resulted in a 10% increase in total tree loss.

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

trees lost and replaced

Replanting is Up This Past Quarter

  • 98% of the permitted non-DDH trees were replanted compared to 87% the previous quarter and 81% the previous year.
  • However, only 8% of the total inches at breast height (DBH) were 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

DDH designations are a sore spot with many residents because often it appears that perfectly healthy trees are being declared as DDH 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.

Given that DDH trees are up 30% over the past six months, the standard of practice for evaluating DDH trees needs to be strengthened and Atlanta residents should have the right to appeal a DDH decision if the city arborist provides insufficient evidence as to why a tree is DDH.  A tree inspection report conducted by a developer-hired arborist should never be accepted at face value by the city arborist.

Illegal Tree Cutting

With illegal tree cutting going up each year and now doubling just this past quarter, it's time for the City to take immediate action to address the lack of meaningful penalties in the Tree Ordinance.  The law is being flaunted at this point, as evidenced by the recent removal of 12 healthy trees by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta after they were ordered by the Tree Commission to save them.  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.

Quarterly Report Requirements

This most recent quarterly report (for the 4th quarter 2019) was published on February 1, but the City wouldn't release it even after repeated requests.  The Tree Next Door filed an ORR requesting the report on February 12 and the report was posted online February 14.  Last quarter, the report was available within a couple of weeks after the end of the 3rd quarter, but this quarter we had to wait six weeks for the report to be published.  The new Tree Ordinance needs to stipulate a publication date for the quarterly reports so that we don't encounter these type of delays.

Contact City Council

With the increase in DDH and illegal tree cutting, we are now losing over 1,450 trees every month, up from 1,300 in FY 2019.  Please contact your City Council representatives today and request that they take immediate action to better oversee the DDH-permitting process and to curtail the rapid escalation of illegal tree cutting. We can't wait until the new ordinance is written and implemented to take action when we are losing over 1,450 trees each month -- and the number keeps going up. 

*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.

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