How to Save a Tree

Research shows that mature trees capture more carbon, filter more particulate matter to reduce air pollution, capture more stormwater, create shade to mitigate the impact of urban heat islands and reduce energy use, and many other environmental and health benefits. If you’re concerned about trees in your community being removed, here are steps you can take for trees on public and private land.

Q: Somebody in my neighborhood is taking down a tree and I think the tree is alive/should not be cut down. Who do I call?

A: If you are in Atlanta, call the City Arborist’s department at 404-330-6836 and ask them if the City has issued a permit to remove a tree at _____ (give location). Give as much information as you can about the tree, and be sure to leave a voice message if you do not reach a staff person. You can also send an email to ParksCustomerService@AtlantaGa.Gov.

If no permit exists, report that to the Arborist Department. If you are outside Atlanta city limits, you have to call the city or the county government for your city or county. The Blue Pages of the phone book will give you those phone numbers.

Q: There is a yellow sign posted saying that some trees are going to be removed. What do I do if I want to save the trees?

A: Call Kathy Evans at the City of Atlanta 404-330-6235 (or call 404-865-8487 to get referred to her). She can give you the information for filing a legal challenge to the tree removal.

What to Do if the City is Removing a Tree:

  1. Find out why the tree is being removed. Many cities post information regarding tree removals online, as well as dates for public hearings.
  2. Be aware that sometimes trees need to be removed. They may be dead, damaged, or diseased. They may pose a serious safety hazard. The wrong species may have been planted, or the tree may have been planted in an inappropriate location.
  3. Check local municipal code for any tree protection ordinances. Ensure that appropriate municipal codes are being followed. Most codes can be found on your city’s website or check here.
  4. Contact the city department responsible for removal. Call your local division of urban forestry for information about street tree removal. You can also write a letter of objection to your city forester. Get a list of state urban and community foresters.
  5. Contact your City Council representatives. It is their job to help you communicate with the city and represent your interests. Explain your concerns and reasoning, and be persistent.
  6. Talk with your neighbors and inform them about any public hearings. They may not know about the tree removal and the benefits that will be lost. Urge them to contact elected officials and speak up. The more people expressing concern in the community, the better the chance of saving the tree.
  7. The facts are in your favor. Consult some of Arbor Day Foundation’s benefits of trees documentation to help make your case.
  8. Money talks. Determine the dollar value of the benefits provided by the tree in question using the National Tree Benefit Calculator.
  9. Start a petition. Include names and contact information of supporters to send to your City Arborist or City Council representative.
  10. Get the media on your side. Contact the press about the tree removal to help generate awareness and explain why this tree is important. A newspaper article, letter to the editor, blog post, or TV news story can go a long way.

If the tree must be removed, work with the city or a Trees Atlanta to ensure that another appropriate tree will be planted in the same area or nearby to replace it.

What to Do if your Neighbor, Landlord, or Developer is cutting down a tree on Private Property:

  1. Talk with the property owner to find out the reason for the removal. If the reason is aesthetic, share your concerns and information on the benefits of trees. If they believe the tree poses a hazard of some sort, see if you can compromise or help find a feasible solution to keep the tree.
  2. Rally support from neighbors. The collective voice of many neighbors may encourage the property owner to preserve the tree. This may be especially helpful in apartment complexes. A strong response from residents may help convince a building manager or owner to preserve trees.
  3. Private trees of a certain species or size may be protected by city law. Check your city’s municipal code for ordinances related to tree protection. If a tree is protected, inform the person planning to remove the tree, as they may not know about the law. If the ordinance is being violated, you can also call the City Arborist for assistance. There may be fines and replacement requirements for removing protected trees. Ensure enforcement of any law.
  4. Consult a professional. Homeowners may want to remove a tree because they believe it is poses a hazard or will cause damage to a structure. You can hire an arborist or other tree care professional to assess the situation. They can often find a way to mitigate hazards and save the tree. Keep in mind that there will likely be a fee for the consultation. Find a qualified arborist here or here.
  5. If the tree is cut down, consider working with your neighbor or landlord to plant a new tree.Evaluate the site to determine if another appropriate tree can be planted in the same location or nearby.

In general, remember to look into your city’s municipal code for any tree protection ordinances. If there aren’t any, lobby your City Council to enact an ordinance protecting certain types of trees in certain situations.

If your city has an ordinance or once one is enacted, help to make your fellow citizens aware of it and involved in enforcing it. You can also check if your city has an urban forestry program. If not, write or call your Mayor and Council to encourage them to create a program to promote and protect the urban tree canopy.