Should Georgia’s Highways Be Free of Trees?

A tree-lined highway in Georgia. Photo credit: Doug Kerr

A tree-lined highway in Georgia. Photo credit: Doug Kerr

My generation, the millennials, has been described as politically apathetic many times and by many people. I’m not sure it’s an entirely fair characterization, but I do relate to a feeling of powerlessness when it comes to influencing policies and other types of fundamental changes. When I was a kid, my parents and teachers would encourage me to write a letter to politicians to express my views and opinions. Where did my willingness to do that go?

Fortunately, letters and phone calls can and do still influence the political winds. And trees tend to be one of those topics that elicits strong feelings from everyone. Recently, Rep. Al Willians (D-GA) introduced a bill, HB 510, which would require the state of Georgia to cut down every tree “deemed tall enough to tumble on to interstates and other limited-access highways.” The bill was introduced in part as a response to a fatality that occurred last year when a tree fell on a vehicle traveling on I-20, although it is not clear whether that tree was on state property or not.

Many residents of Georgia felt that mandatory removal of trees along all highways and interstates in the state was draconian, and even wrote letters saying so. Here is one from Ed Macie, Regional Urban Forester with the U.S. Forest Service:

Dear Committee Members:

I am writing you in opposition to HB510.  The removal of all the trees along GA highways is completely unnecessary.  There is a well documented science to conducting a risk assessment based on a tree’s likelihood for failure, combined with the consequences of that failure.  Only trees with medium risk or higher should be removed.  Of course, that would require an assessment of all trees, which is by far less expensive to the GA taxpayer than what is being proposed.

The wholesale removals being recommended in this bill would produce a tremendous deleterious effect to Georgia’s natural and business environment. I can’t imagine DOT maintaining highways with anything less than best management practices.  That should also apply to the trees.  Removing all the trees might be the most expeditious solution to reducing the liability associates with risk, but this approach is not without its own risk, associated with air and water quality, human health, and climate.

Assessing the trees in strike distance and mitigating risk per national arboricultural best management practices would be the most balanced, cost effective, professional, and intelligent approach.

I have copied representatives of the tree care industry and urban forest community.  I am sure any and all of these organizations will be willing and able to assist you in developing an approach based on professional standards and practices.

Sincerely,

Ed Macie
Decatur, GA
GA Registered Forester # 1986

How necessary – and how effective – is Bill 510 to public safety? Ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers. You can probably guess my opinion. Georgia already removes at-risk and dangerous trees from highways and road. Is removing all trees pre-emptively really necessary, and worth the resulting diminishment to the quality of life, environmental, and overall well-being benefits that they provide?

Due to public outcry, this bill never made it to the house floor, although the billboard industry – who get behind efforts like this – will probably try again. In the meantime, thank goodness for people like Ed, who still write letters. Thank goodness letters still work.

We are grateful to Ed Macie for allowing us to reprint his letter.

Sites consulted: Albany Herald

 

 

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