Brookhaven has seen a net loss of tree coverage in the past 10 years, according to an urban tree canopy assessment commissioned by the city.
The 2019 tree canopy coverage is 44%, compared to 47% in 2009. Tree coverage has been on a steady decline for the past four years in Brookhaven, according to the PlainIT Geo study.
Brookhaven commissioned the assessment because of the city’s recent approval to hire a tree canopy preservation program manager and plan to rewrite the tree ordinance. The report is intended to help the mayor and council make more informed decisions about tree preservation and future development.
Tree coverage dropped 6 percentage points in the past two years, which is the largest single decrease in the city’s trees during the 10-year span.
For Brookhaven resident Lori Gray, these numbers were concerning.
“The pace of the loss is really quite alarming,” Gray said during the public comments of a virtual City Council meeting on June 9, where the assessment was presented.
District 2 City Councilmember John Park shared her concerns.
However, Ben Whittman, who presented the study, said the decrease may have been higher because of an overestimation of canopy coverage in 2017. The 2017 and 2019 studies had slightly different methodology, whereas the 2009 and 2019 studies are more accurate comparisons.
Areas zoned as single-family residential saw the biggest percentage drop in tree canopy, according to the assessment. All zoning areas except for multifamily residential, which had a 1% increase, had decreases in canopy coverage. Whitman said the increase comes from young trees maturing to become a part of the canopy.
Single-family residential areas have the highest percent of tree coverage as well as the highest acreage of tree canopy because it’s the largest zoning class in the city.
Gray worried that the area with the highest acreage of trees also saw the highest decline of the canopy. The decline could be caused because of new developments as well as private homeowners removing trees, according to the presentation.