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Study shows fragile tree coverage in Jefferson
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The results are in, and although Jefferson’s tree canopy is greater than that of many other cities, that could change with the removal of just one tree.

Recently, the city joined with the Jefferson Heritage Tree Council to conduct a study measuring the existing tree canopy, or cover, within city limits. According to the study, 55.8 percent of the city is covered by trees.

According to Connie Head, technical forestry services consultant who oversaw the study, the average tree canopy coverage area in a city is generally in the 40th percentile, however Jefferson’s totals are still “marginal.”

“Tree canopy cover in Jefferson is not evenly distributed. It is generally abundant on undeveloped land and in older neighborhoods and is generally lacking in commercial districts and on industrial properties,” said Head, during a recent Jefferson City Council meeting.

Additionally, the study found that the city is covered by 11.3 percent impervious surfaces, 2.5 percent bare soil and gravel and 29 percent “other vegetation.” The other vegetation category includes shrubs, grass and vines.

And although extra vegetation helps to reduce stormwater runoff and reduce surface temperatures, they do not offer as many benefits to the community as trees. As outlined by the study’s findings, trees help to also improve air and water quality, raise property values and provide habitats for wildlife.

The greatest percentage of tree canopy in the city falls in areas that are zoned light industrial, highway commercial and medium density residential. And although much of those areas are undeveloped, the study points out that developments have been approved for several sites, but for unknown reasons construction hasn’t started yet.

“A loss of tree canopy cover will occur quickly if current tree canopy is not actively conserved, maintained and replaced as trees are removed,” Head said.

In order to maintain and increase the city’s tree canopy, the study lists several recommendations, including planting large maturing trees when possible, enforcing a land-use management code with requirements for tree density and developing an aggressive long-term tree planting program.

“One of the reasons why we wanted to move forward with completing the study is that we wanted to weigh the impact of all existing zoned property and use that information to make future zoning decisions,” City Manager John Ward said.

“Anytime you have more information, it allows you to make more of an educated decision. We want to retain as much tree canopy as possible as we progress as a city.”

A similar study was conducted in Gainesville in 2006. It was a collaborative project with the city, Keep Hall Beautiful and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

“There were around 1,000 trees surveyed in the (city). The study made some recommendations about the surveyed trees and also about ordinance improvements,” said Jessica Tullar, Gainesville Community Development Department special projects manager.

“Since that time, the city has taken some of the recommendations into consideration. We are also in the process of applying for a grant that will allow us to start a certified arborist training program.”

Having a certified arborist on staff was one of the recommendations of the Gainesville tree canopy study, Tullar said. The goal is to have an arborist on staff who can assist officials in making decisions related to tree ordinances.