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Jefferson keeps close eye on its trees
Volunteers help plot Jefferson’s tree canopy, which is part of the city’s Sustainable Community Forest Project. - photo by BRANDEE A. THOMAS
In general, people don’t pay much attention to trees unless one is about to fall on their house, but that is not the case for a group of Jefferson volunteers.

They are busy scouring aerial maps of the city to account for existing tree coverage, or canopy, as a part of the Jefferson Sustainable Community Forest Project, which was made possible by a Georgia Urban and Community Forestry Grant.

“Volunteers will analyze the landscape cover of the city from 20 aerial maps. Each map is covered with a grid of yellow dots and volunteers will be categorizing the dots by the land cover beneath it,” said Connie Head, project coordinator and urban forestry consultant.

“Five categories of land cover will be measured: trees, other vegetation, impervious surfaces, bare soil and water.”

Impervious surfaces are things like paved parking lots that don’t allow the absorption of water and increase stormwater runoff.

In an area like Jefferson where industry continues to grow, having the proper balance of canopy cover can be crucial.

“Right now, there are a lot of industry permits out, but because of the economy no one has been able to build. So there is a lot of vegetation and soil in some areas but in the future it will be impervious surfaces,” said Barbara Johnson, tree council vice chairwoman.

“Increasing tree canopy helps mitigate the damage caused by those surfaces; there are many benefits to having a large tree canopy, including reducing pollution and particulate matter.”

When all of the maps have been analyzed, officials will calculate how much of each land cover type there is around the city. The percentages derived will help illustrate how much land cover has been lost or gained over the years. The last study was conducted in 2005, but Head says that the Jefferson Heritage Tree Council would like to conduct a new one every year or two.

The overall goal of the project is to help design city ordinances that protect and manage the city’s tree canopy.

“By conducting a canopy study more frequently, we will be able to pick up on trends more quickly,” Head said. “If the canopy increases, we’ll know that what we’re doing is working. If it decreases, we’ll know that we need to tweak some things and plant more trees.”