Native birds will have a safe place to rest their wings at night if the Atlanta Audubon Society has its way.

The society has been partnering with several local environmental organizations to protect the city’s canopy and wildlife, and on April 30 held a “Tree Talks” meeting at Atlanta International School in Buckhead to focus on development and protection of that canopy.

Meeting leaders cited planting more trees, buying forested land to protect, and saving existing canopy as the best solutions.

The city of Atlanta will be reviewing the existing tree protection ordinance later this year, and Nikki Belmonte, the executive director of the Atlanta Audubon Society, said this is the time for citizens and experts to voice their opinions. Citizens were also encouraged to sign a pre-filled out letter to the city asking for stricter tree protection laws. The city will hold a public input meeting about the tree ordinance in Buckhead on June 6.

“There are gaps in the [existing] ordinances that just don’t work anymore for our city,” Belmonte said. “The ordinances are 20 years old, so it’s time for an update.”

There are more than 250 species of wild birds in Atlanta, and the diverse canopy allows those communities to flourish. And that tree diversity is what Dekalb County Natural Resource Manager Robby Astrove wants to protect.

“As great as it looks to have a whole street blooming at the same time [with the same tree species], we’re actually creating a susceptibility for the trees if we do that,” Astrove said. “A disease can come in and wipe out the whole street.”

But disease is not the only concerning issue for these groups. More than 72% of the canopy is on private property, and while there are fines for cutting trees down without a proper permit, Tree Next Door founder deLille Anthony believes those are not strict enough.

“When you hear someone with a chainsaw on a Sunday morning, they’re usually doing it then because they know there isn’t anyone in the office who can answer those calls,” Anthony said.

She also said the rising real estate values in the metro area are devaluing the trees on those properties.

“When you’re spending $400,000 on a piece of a property, a $500 fine to illegally cut down a tree is a drop in the bucket,” she said.

The group also discussed wanting to charge more for cutting down trees in the more expensive parts of the city to better correlate the price with the value.

“We need to help people understand the value of trees,” Belmonte said. “And if a property is worth more, than so are the trees on it.”

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–Katia Martinez