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Tree inventory boosts plans for Jefferson forestry program
This water oak in Jefferson’s Curry Creek Park is one of more than 1,500 street and park trees in the city. The Jefferson Heritage Tree Council recently finished a yearlong inventory of the city’s public trees located along its 42 miles of streets and within its six parks. - photo by KATIE DUNN

Tree inventory meeting

Learn the number and species of public trees in Jefferson, along with their health and benefits to the city.

  • When: 6 p.m. Monday
  • Where: Jefferson Civic Center, 65 Kissam St., Jefferson
JEFFERSON — Barbara Johnson’s lifelong dream is finally coming true.

Following a yearlong tree inventory, Jefferson is one step closer in its quest to establish a community forestry program.

Johnson and fellow Jefferson Heritage Tree Council members have anxiously awaited the results of a survey that inventoried all of Jefferson’s street and park trees.

"It is a great feeling to know that the tree inventory has been completed," Johnson said.

Last August, the council received a $4,784 matching grant from the Georgia Forestry Commission to inventory trees located along Jefferson’s 42 miles of city streets and within its six city parks.

Now the public is invited to attend a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the Jefferson Civic Center for a final inventory report, which will cover the number and species of public trees in Jefferson, their health, benefits to the city and the project’s next steps.

Andrew Saunders, a certified arborist and Athens-Clarke County’s community forestry coordinator, conducted the yearlong inventory and will discuss his findings.

Last Sept. 5, Saunders began traversing Jefferson on foot, equipped with a global positioning system to log the city’s arboreal inhabitants.

For each tree he encountered, Saunders documented its location, species, size, potential management needs, and other data.

He also catalogued sites that currently have no trees but would be ideal spots for planting.

Comparing the number of planting sites with the actual tree population surprised Saunders the most. Jefferson, he said, has more room for trees along its streets than it has trees.

Council Vice Chairwoman Johnson said she hopes Jefferson can work to increase its tree population, as the more trees a community boasts, the more it benefits. Trees, she said, provide clean air and water, store carbon, prevent erosion, lower community temperatures and increase both property values and the quality of living.

Other counties surrounding Jackson, including Hall, Gwinnett, Oconee, Clarke and Madison, have experienced a 3 to 7 percent decline in tree canopy from 1991 to 2005, according to an informational program the council created.

Jefferson’s final survey analysis is still unfinished, but Saunders’ last report in May stated he had walked 33.7 miles of Jefferson’s streets and found 816 trees and 1,318 potential planting sites. Jefferson’s six city parks had 448 trees in their 134 acres.

Saunders said Wednesday that he has now documented more than 1,500 public trees, average for a city of Jefferson’s size.

"Against a similar size area that I’ve worked in, it’s normal," he said. "It’s to be expected."

The city’s street trees include mostly different hardwood species, while the parks have both coniferous and hardwood specimens. "They really have a healthy species distribution," he said.

This diversity was one aspect that intrigued Mary Dugan, the council’s chairwoman.

"I think the most interesting thing to me is finding out that we do have a good supply of trees and a resource that’s really worth the time and effort that we’ve been putting into it."

Dugan and the council’s six other members will invest a lot more time and effort this year as well.

In July, the council received two additional Urban and Community Forestry matching grants. The first of $19,565 will help Jefferson further its tree inventory and outline future management plans for protecting, enhancing and understanding its tree canopy.

Forester Connie Head, a private consultant with Technical Forestry Services in Commerce, will help the city in its efforts.

"I’ll be developing a management plan for the city so that they have a comprehensive sustainable forestry community program," she said. "It’s going to be an exciting year, an active year."

The entire project cost is $46,476. The council will match the received grant money through cash and in-kind donations; the latter can include anything from volunteer hours to the city providing office space.

The second grant, titled "Making the Shade," will cover $2,000 of a $4,817 project to plant trees in Hughley Park on Gordon Street.

Dugan said the council plans to plant eight trees in the park on Feb. 19, Arbor Day, to provide shade on an existing park playground. The park, she said, is used predominantly by families living on Pine and Gordon streets, as well as the Jackson County Boys and Girls Club.

Johnson said the receipt of both grants will make next year a busy and beneficial one, allowing Jefferson to begin planting seeds for a greener future.

"Hopefully, (we can) really put in place the ingredients we need to make sure that long term, we will be able to carry out our mission of ensuring that we have a healthy, diverse and viable community forest here in Jefferson," she said

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