Many of Savannah’s iconic live oaks may be reaching end of lifespan

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — They are a Savannah staple and draw people from all over to see their beauty, but now many live oaks could be in danger.

A tree that was between 125 to 150 years of age was recently removed from Calhoun Square. It split down the middle several weeks ago and had to be taken down.

Experts say damage to and loss of these old, iconic live oaks has been happening more frequently over the last few years, and they say this will likely continue with some of our oldest trees here in Savannah.

“It’s just one example of a couple major trees we’ve lost in the last couple of years,” says Zoe Rinker, the executive director of the Savannah Tree Foundation.

“This is just an ongoing issue that we have and it’s because we have an aging urban canopy,” Rinker added.

Many of the Hostess City’s largest live oaks were planted in the late 1890s.

“For the most part, our tree canopy is about 125 years old,” said Rinker.

Experts say live oak trees in the wild can live over 300 or 400 years — but now that’s changing.

“Live oaks in urban areas to live about 150 years,” Rinker said.

In a city environment where live oaks are subjected to stressors like asphalt, pollutants and compacted roots, they are less likely to reach their full lifespan.

“You’re going to shorten their lifespan,” said Rinker.

She says many of our trees could be approaching the end of their life cycle.

“This is frankly just the start of our starting to cycle through our canopy,” Rinker said.

She says the city needs to do more to address this issue.

“We need to invest in proactive maintenance but also planting new trees,” said Rinker.

She says in addition to growing new live oaks, it’s also important to plant different kinds of trees.

“Urban forest diversity is super important,” said Rinker. Promoting biodiversity can help avoid mass tree loss.

“We’re a port city,” said Rinker, “we can easily have a pest or disease come in through the ports that could potentially wipe out our live oaks.”

When it comes to growing more live oaks, Rinker says it’s important to plan proactively, because they can take 80 to 100 years to grow to full size.

Rinker says this issue is about more than just beautification or tourism.

“It’s really just a quality-of-life issue,” she added.

Experts say trees promote clean air, absorb carbon, keep cities up to 10 degrees cooler and can even help with stormwater flooding — and they’re important to the community.

“It’s about investing in our future,” said Rinker.

This week, several groups are coming together to plant trees.

Thursday and Friday, the Savannah Tree Foundation, the Arbor Day Foundation and International Paper will plant them at the Westside Park and the Barjan Terrace Park.

The group will also give out free trees Saturday at the Bouhan Falligant Law Firm from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. — that’s located on Park Avenue.

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