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Atlanta arborists are pledging to replace every tree they remove from the metro area

By Laura Vargas, CNN

Not every urban metropolis is known as the City in the Forest like Atlanta is.

So tree loss is something the city takes seriously. And now arborists in Atlanta are teaming up to save the city’s trees by setting an ambitious goal.

The firm Peachtree Arborists, with help from the nonprofit Trees Atlanta, is aiming to replant every single tree it removes from the city’s metro area. The program created an interactive map where participants can track replanted trees and choose where they want trees replenished.

Michael Orme, the CEO of Peachtree Arborists, told CNN that as the owner of an arboriculture firm he is eager to help solve the city’s tree loss.

“After working in so many big-name storms nationally and seeing such destruction at such a massive scale, we felt the responsibility to replenish those tree canopies,” Orme explained.

The Atlanta’s Department of Planning first conducted a comprehensive tree canopy analysis in 2008, after which it determined that Atlanta’s tree canopy was No. 1 in coverage for a major city — 47.9% of the metropolitan area was covered by tree canopy. But by 2018, that coverage decreased to 46.5%.

Eli Dickerson, the Fernbank Museum’s chief ecologist, told CNN that the decrease looks small on paper but it has big consequences.

“What those numbers do not tell us is the quality of the trees that were removed,” Dickerson said. “The numbers are nuanced, and you don’t know what type of forest and they are not all the same. The older forests with bigger trees tend to have more diversity, they provide more ecosystem services like storing and cleaning water, cooling the air. So it is a big deal.”

As CNN has previously reported, the effects of a changing ecosystem are felt very differently throughout the city of Atlanta as the temperature increases, caused in part by a decrease in tree canopy, which makes high temperatures unbearable for some residents.

Tree loss can have a significant impact on the climate crisis — living trees absorb planet-warming gases from the atmosphere. But forest fires, logging or tree removal releases it.

“Another thing that trees do for us is sequester pollution,” Dickerson said. “On top of living in an area that might flood more, living in an area that’s hotter, living in an area that also has more particulate matter and worse air quality, all of this can be addressed by trees.”

Arbor Day Foundation CEO Dan Lambe described the foundation’s ethos and their commitment to the preservation of tree ecosystems: “We work with local and non-profit tree planting organizations, cities, city leaders, city foresters, volunteers, and all kinds of community leaders to help assess and determine the best practices for planting trees and managing forests in our cities and towns.”

In celebration of Arbor Day on April 29, Lambe plans to participate in Trees Atlanta’s project of planting a flowering forest in honor of civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis, who died in 2020.

“Trees in our cities are the hardest working trees out there,” Lambe said. “They shade our homes, cool our communities, remove pollutants from the air, increase our property values, and create economic opportunities.”

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