TAMPA, Fla. — With the Tampa Bay area growing rapidly in recent years, a major concern for activists is preserving our trees.
“Tree planting and planning is not something that should sit on the shelf, that should be an integral part of development, development review, permitting,” said Cathy Harrelson, Chair of the Saint-Petersburg urban forestry.
The US Forest Service found that we lost 36 million trees a year in urban and rural communities over a five-year period.
Just before the pandemic, when 330,000 people moved to Florida, the state legislature passed House Bill 1159.
It “prohibits local governments from requiring notices, applications, approvals, permits, fees or mitigations for the pruning, trimming or removal of trees on residential property if the tree presents a danger”. Nor do they have to replace them.
This means that the higher the houses, the more the trees fall.
“Over the past few years, many local governments have had their hands tied behind their backs by the state,” explained William Moriaty, president of Tampa Bay Reforestation & Environmental Effort, Inc., also known as TREE.
TREE was founded in 1983 and since then they have planted 27,000 trees throughout the Tampa Bay area.
“We’re not financially rich enough to be in court, fighting developers and things like that. So that’s our basic way of contributing to the environment,” Moriaty said.
Cities like St. Petersburg and Tampa have tree ordinances requiring things like permits to remove protected trees and developers to replace the canopy of trees they remove.
One example where Tampa has taken steps to hold a developer accountable is The Isles in Old Tampa Bay on South West Shore Boulevard.
Moriaty said it was a massacre of 162 acres which included the Georgetown apartments.
After the lot was demolished without the necessary permits, the project was halted for years.
The development website now states, “To date, we have retained and moved 152 trees onsite and moved over 700 palm trees to offsite nurseries… This exceeds the city’s 50% tree retention requirement. from Tampa.
The construction of the sewers is in progress at the moment.
“I don’t think the trees fit into the plan enough,” exclaimed Harrelson. “I actually saw where they cut down big oak trees and planted these fancy little palm trees, which aren’t even native…it’s not even a real tree. It is actually a type of grass.
So why should we care? Trees are major players in our daily lives.
- They provide shade from the sun – which also lowers our home energy bills
- They absorb our CO2 and supply oxygen
- They are habitats for wildlife
- They absorb rainwater
“A community with a large tree canopy can actually lower the cost of our flood insurance,” added Harrelson.
As Tampa Bay continues to grow, they say we can all make sure the trees do too.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time is today,” Harrelson concluded.
St Pete is also asking residents to map trees near their homes via an app to help understand the city’s tree canopy and where more trees need to be planted.
Click here to sign up for the tree mapping app. Click here for an application to help you identify a tree called [email protected]
TREE Inc. plants trees in the Bay Area throughout the year, you can email Moriaty to volunteer at [email protected]
Several Earth Day events are happening this weekend and many are giving you free trees to plant at home.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is offering 1,000 free trees. Eligible city residents can register online now. Pickup is on Saturdays at the Sulfur Springs Pool parking lot between 9am and 12pm.
St Pete hosts the Green Thumb Festival at Walter Fuller Park Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be food, arts and crafts vendors, as well as over 120 garden, plant and flower vendors and exhibits. Tree gifts are first come, first served on Saturday mornings.
On April 30, Pinellas County also hosts a National Arbor Day celebration:
- Pinellas County Urban Forestry & Landscape Services celebrates the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day. Participate in fun activities for the whole family: raptor encounters, truck touchdown, treetop walk, tree climbing demonstration, environmental exhibits, tree planting event and free tree giveaway.
- Eagle Lake Park 1800 Keene Largo Road
- Saturday, April 30, 2022
- Tree planting event: 8:45 a.m. to 9 a.m.
- Exhibitors and entertainment 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
- Tree Giveaway: pre-registered pickup 10 a.m.-12 p.m., leftovers are first come, served 12 p.m.-2 p.m.