State legislation threatens local control over trees

Anna Brosche, John November, Audrey Gibson and Anna Dooley wield shovels at a tree planting in Nathan Krestul Park.

Anna Brosche, John November, Audrey Gibson and Anna Dooley wield shovels at a tree planting in Nathan Krestul Park.

The planting of three bald cypress trees at Nathan Krestul Park last month turned into a call for action to defeat state legislation that would abolish tree mitigation laws and funds that pay for trees to be planted on public property.

The gathering Dec. 11 on San Jose Boulevard celebrated the new, improved website, JaxDigsTrees.com, and the new tree database that will allow Duval County residents and officials to make decisions about where to plant trees using the city’s $20 million tree mitigation fund.

But that fund and the laws that protect Jacksonville’s trees are being threatened by Florida House Bill 521 and Senate Bill 574, said Alicia Grant, president of Scenic Jacksonville. The legislation would stop local governments from regulating the “trimming, removal, or harvesting of trees and timber on private property.” Only the Legislature would be able to regulate trees.

That threat has mobilized groups like Scenic Jacksonville, Greenscape, Sierra Club and the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute of Florida that have spent almost two decades getting Jacksonville’s tree protection ordinances in place and functioning.

“The legislation is misguided and misinformed,” Grant said. “They don’t understand all the benefits we get from trees. They improve the economic value of property, they clean the air, help manage storm water, reduce erosion and have psychological benefits. In Florida, we can’t afford to clear cut.”

State Sen. Audrey Gibson was one of the prime movers behind the 2000 charter amendment, passed by 76 percent of the voters, that established the mitigation fund.

“It passed by the biggest margin in history and that would be ripped from us,” Gibson said. “It controls what the county looks like.”

Two years ago, Public Trust sued the city over the way the fund was being used. Last summer, Jacksonville City Council approved a settlement that established a city tree commission that will advise the city how to use the funds to replace and expand the tree canopy.

The newly appointed members of the commission include Curtis Hart, a developer; Aaron Glick, a land protection specialist; Jeremy Cooper, an arborist; Rhodes Robinson, environmental services specialist; City Councilman John Crescimbeni; City Council President Anna Brosche, and Public Works Director John Pappas.

John November, executive director of Public Trust, urged everyone to call state lawmakers to urge the legislation be defeated and to visit JaxDigsTrees.com for more information about the issue.


By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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