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Study On Urban Tree Loss Puts Georgia At Top Of List

A recent study found Georgia lost an average of 18,000 acres of urban tree cover per year -- more than any other state.
A recent study found Georgia lost an average of 18,000 acres of urban tree cover per year -- more than any other state.
Credit Tasnim Shamma / WABE
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A report from the U.S. Forest Service shows Georgia is leading the nation — in tree loss.

The study examined Google Earth images over a five year period, from 2009 to 2014. It found Georgia lost an average of 18,000 acres of urban tree cover per year — more than any other state.

Even when you compare that to Georgia’s overall tree cover, the picture doesn’t get much better. There, in terms of percentage of tree loss, the state ranks third — after Rhode Island and Washington D.C.

David Nowak, the scientist who co-authored the study, recognized that Georgia naturally has a a lot of forested area. But he said he hopes the study helps state leaders decide how they would like the tree canopy to look in the future.

“That’s the choice that Georgia has to make,” he said. “You’re losing benefits by losing that tree cover.”

Nowak said the benefits of trees include keeping cities cool and preventing flooding. And he’s even put a dollar amount on them. His study estimates tree loss in Georgia has cost the state more than $5 million dollars per year.

Susan Granbery with the Georgia Forestry Commission said there a lot of reasons for the deterioration of Georgia’s urban forests. Development is a big cause, she said, but there are other issues that affect trees, like drought and insects.

“Right now there’s a lot of loss of trees due to the southern pine beetle. We’re getting calls from Cobb, Gwinnett and Fulton County,” Granbery said.

So what can be done? Arthur Morris of the Georgia Urban Forest Council said he prefers to work with local jurisdictions on tree conservation rather than develop, say, a statewide policy. He said even teaching people about the value of trees could go a long way.

“I would lean towards a more robust and perhaps even better funded education,” Morris said.