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Earth Sense: Keeping an eye on the shade
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In these times of terrorist attacks, the appearance of an “Urban Forest Strike Team” may raise concerns in some people’s minds. But this particular task force has a purpose that’s entirely in the interest of Georgia communities.

The group consists of friendly arborists and tree workers, with two purposes. One is to provide risk assessment and identifying trees that might pose a threat to people and property if they fall over or drop heavy limbs. The other is to evaluate damage after severe storms, and identify trees that need to be pruned or cut completely, again to eliminate danger.

“Although there can be liability issues related to trees, communities can minimize the risk by proactively managing their trees,” said Joan Scales of the Georgia Forestry Commission in a recent presentation made to the Hall County EnviroShare group.

“On Aug. 22 of this year, a Savannah woman was awarded $12 million by a jury after she sued for injuries.”

A large limb from a live oak tree had fallen and impaled her in her vehicle, causing severe and permanent injuries to her and lesser injuries to her two passengers. The case illustrates the importance of not only having trees in the urban landscape, but also watching them for signs of weakness, disease, and infestation by insects.

The Georgia Forestry Commission assists with managing the forest environment in cities. Located in Dry Branch, the GFC maintains district and county offices throughout the state. Advising public tree boards is part of the task.

“We encourage communities to utilize trees as part of their infrastructure,” Scales said, pointing out that a recent study showed towns actually ending up poorer after removing massive amounts of trees and planting subdivisions in their place.

Trees provide shade, regulate soil water, emit oxygen and enhance the city landscape. The importance of providing shade is evident on many school playgrounds, where planning included the construction of activity centers, but left out trees. On some 95-degree days, GFC studies found surface temperatures up to 167 Fahrenheit – definitely not a suitable place for kids to play.

In response, the agency initiated a “Making The Shade” program, which provides assistance and funding for planting shade trees on playgrounds.

Whether it’s through their recommendations of certified arborists or answering general questions from the public by email, the Georgia Forestry Commission ( provides vital services in ensuring the health and safety of the state’s wealth of trees.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at

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