FY 2020 - 4rd Qtr (2020 - 2st Qtr) Arborist Division Report Summary

2020 2nd Quarter Report Shows Initial Impact of COVID-19 on Tree Cutting

COVID-19 had a significant impact in the number of trees cut during the 2nd quarter of 2020 and the reasons for removal.

Overall, tree cutting dropped by 20% compared to the previous quarter, with a 32% drop among trees being cut for construction related purposes (plan reviews). This decline offset the increases in tree cutting that occurred the first two quarters of FY 2020, ending the fiscal year of 2020 with approximately the same number of trees being cut this fiscal year (15,991) as last (15,935).

However, there has been a marked shift this year in the type of tree cuttings taking place in FY 2020 that became even more pronounced during the last quarter of FY 2020. 

  • It is becoming FAR easier to take trees down as dead, dying, or hazardous (DDH). Over the past three years the denial rate for DDH permit requests has been around 20%. In FY 2020, the DDH denial rate steadily dropped to 14% before plummeting to less than 2% in the 4th quarter. Sixty-one percent of all removed trees (excluding illegally cut trees with unknown sizes) were taken down as DDH, which means they were not required to be replaced nor recompensed.
  • People were even more likely to go ahead and cut without a permit during the 2nd quarter of 2020.  With the Arborist Division office closed due to COVID-19 and the police being slower to respond to crimes they did not involve physical assault, perhaps illegal tree cutters felt there was less risk of being caught. Thus, even though the number of both healthy and DDH trees cut dropped in the 2nd quarter, illegally cut trees climbed by 4%. Fifteen percent of all healthy (non-DDH) trees removed were cut illegally, up from 12% the previous quarter. (This percent increases to 18% if the 45 illegally-cut trees in which a trunk diameter could not be determined are included.)
  • Trees cut for construction-related purposes decreased from 38% to 33% of all trees cut. This is a significant drop from prior years, in which almost 50% of trees were cut for construction-related purposes.

Even though 20% fewer trees were cut during 4th quarter FY 2020, there was a 7% increase in net loss of trees due to much lower tree replanting. Only 30% of all removed trees were replanted, down from 47% the quarter before. And because replanted trees were also smaller -- 2.8” DBH as opposed to 3.3” DBH the last two quarters -- and destroyed trees were larger -- 18.5" DBH compared to 17.8” DBH the previous quarter – tree trunk inches replaced fell from 9% to 5%.

Reporting Period: April 1, 2020 - June 30, 2020
Data Source: DCP Reporting, FY 2020 - Q4 Report*
Note: This table does not include 45 trees removed illegally with DBH unknown (i.e. cut down to the stump or grinded)

 2020 fy 4th qtr

  *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.


FY 2020 - 3rd Qtr (2020 - 1st Qtr) Arborist Division Report Summary

2020 1st Quarter Report Confirms Continuing Trend in Larger Proportion of Trees Being Cut as DDH or Illegally Destroyed

Overall tree removal was down 9% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 4th quarter 2019, but the percentage of trees cut as DDH or illegally destroyed remained about the same.  Although the decline in overall tree removal may be seasonal, the City has not provided any quarterly data before the 1st quarter of fiscal year 2020, so there is no tree data for the first quarter of 2019 for comparison.  Also, the Department of City Planning has not yet posted permitting data for the 1st quarter of 2020 so that we can see if there was a similar decline in construction permits. 

The decline in tree removal is likely not related to COVID-19 given that the quarantine for COVID-19 didn't begin until mid-March, and tree cutting permits for healthy trees take at least 15 days to procure.  Also, all construction, tree, and landscaping businesses were considered "essential" during the shutdown, and thus, were allowed to continue to operate.

The percentage of trees being removed as DDH or illegally continued to remain unusually high during the first quarter of 2020 compared to previous years. Overall, DDH tree removal is up by 27% for the year and illegal tree removal has increased by 22%.  

57% of the total trees removed this past quarter were removed with a DDH permit, a similar rate to what we saw the prior two quarters. And 12% of all healthy trees (5% of the total trees, including DDH) removed were illegally cut (including trees with unknown DBH). Only 38% of the total trees removed were legally permitted in a plan review.

Some good news is that the number of trees to be replanted increased this quarter to 47% of all removed trees, up from 43% the quarter before.  Last year, only 42% of the destroyed trees were scheduled to be replanted. But, because replanted trees averaged about 3.3" DBH this past quarter, compared to 17.8" DBH for destroyed trees, 91% of our lost tree canopy was not replaced. 

Instead, money paid by developers to recompense the lack of replanting went into the Tree Trust Fund which has been continuously raided by the millions to cover salaries and benefits of employees the Tree Trust Fund is not intended to cover.  Additionally, 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 ensuring a permanent loss in our tree canopy.

Unless a destroyed tree is replanted as part of a plan review process, it's more than likely never to be replanted.

Reporting Period: January 1, 2020 - March 31, 2020
Data Source: DCP Reporting, FY 2020 - Q3 Report*
Note: This table does not include 13 trees removed illegally with DBH unknown (i.e. cut down to the stump or grinded)

 2020 fy - 3rd quarter

*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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