Rep. Ed­wards seeks to kill tree pro­tec­tions

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - VOICES & OPINION -

In a mis­guided re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane Irma’s power out­ages, the Florida Leg­is­la­ture is be­ing asked to take a wood chip­per to lo­cal tree pro­tec­tions.

Be­cause wind-whipped trees were largely re­spon­si­ble for top­pled power lines, two law­mak­ers are push­ing bills that would kill lo­cal tree or­di­nances they say make it too hard to fire up chain­saws.

Sur­pris­ingly, Rep. Katie Ed­wards, a Demo­crat from Plan­ta­tion, is one of them.

Ed­wards says city and county tree reg­u­la­tions cause con­fu­sion and un­nec­es­sary per­mit­ting costs for prop­erty own­ers try­ing to trim or cut down trees.

She says she filed House Bill 521 as a way to cre­ate statewide tree stan­dards that help Florida bet­ter pre­pare for fu­ture storms. She says she doesn’t want to de­stroy the tree canopy, sim­ply make it eas­ier for peo­ple to trim and re­move trees. She also wants to en­cour­age peo­ple to plant trees bet­ter suited to with­stand high winds.

Prob­lem is, her two-page bill of­fers no such en­cour­age­ment. It sim­ply pro­hibits lo­cal gov­ern­ments from do­ing any­thing to pro­tect trees. It of­fers not a sliver of state pro­tec­tion for neigh­bor­hood trees.

In re­al­ity, Ed­wards’ bill ap­pears de­signed to let de­vel­op­ers more eas­ily pave over par­adise. For big trees of­ten get in the way of big projects. And de­pend­ing on their size, city or­di­nances of­ten re­quire de­vel­op­ers to pro­tect, trans­plant or re­place lost trees with na­tive species.

Ir­re­spon­si­ble prop­erty own­ers fail­ing to pe­ri­od­i­cally trim their trees or plant­ing too close to power lines were far more to blame for Irma’s dam­age than overly re­stric­tive lo­cal or­di­nances.

Repub­li­can Sen. Greg Steube of Sara­sota was first to pro­pose the death of lo­cal tree or­di­nances with Senate Bill 574.

It seems Steube ran into trou­ble when clear­ing trees to build a three-car garage at his home. He told the Her­aldTri­bune the rules on clear­ing and re­mov­ing trees in­fringed on prop­erty rights. There are “a lot of in­stances where lo­cal gov­ern­ments are, in my opin­ion, go­ing way above and be­yond what they should be do­ing,” he said.

Steube is best known for his re­lent­less push to let peo­ple carry guns into court­houses, col­lege cam­puses and air­port ter­mi­nals, and wear them in full sight. Who knows, maybe he wants to clear-cut trees to clear all lines of fire. But it’s hard to un­der­stand why Ed­wards would copy Steube’s bill and help him take aim at lo­cal tree pro­tec­tions.

Trees beau­tify neigh­bor­hoods, boost prop­erty values and pro­vide shade that low­ers en­ergy costs — in ad­di­tion to the en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits they of­fer. Do Plan­ta­tion res­i­dents re­ally want tree pro­tec­tions killed? Do they re­ally want Tal­la­has­see de­cid­ing whether a de­vel­oper may re­place a grand tree with a shrub?

If lo­cal tree pro­tec­tions are too re­stric­tive or cum­ber­some, they should be amended and sim­pli­fied — not erased. But we’ve spo­ken with no city or county leader ap­proached by Ed­wards about the need for amend­ments. We have, though, heard their cries of sur­prise about her heavy-handed bill.

If Ed­wards and Steube re­ally want to help Florida bet­ter pre­pare for a storm, they should ad­dress the prob­lem of prop­erty own­ers who refuse to do some­thing about dan­ger­ous trees. We also need a way to proac­tively iden­tify prob­lem trees be­fore a storm hits.

But after seven years of watch­ing Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Leg­is­la­ture gut en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions, we have no con­fi­dence that Tal­la­has­see will do a bet­ter job than ci­ties in pro­tect­ing our tree canopy.

Ed­wards’ bill is op­posed by the Florida As­so­ci­a­tion of Coun­ties, the Florida League of Ci­ties and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups such as 1000 Friends of Florida.

“A blan­ket ban just means some­thing that makes Florida unique and beau­ti­ful could suf­fer,” warns Thomas Hawkins, 1000 Friends’ pol­icy and plan­ning di­rec­tor.

Mak­ing it easy to clear-cut Florida is no way to avoid fu­ture power out­ages.

Prun­ing oner­ous red tape should be the goal, not en­trust­ing our trees to a Tal­la­has­see takeover.

Edi­to­ri­als are the opin­ion of the Sun Sen­tinel Ed­i­to­rial Board and writ­ten by one of its mem­bers or a de­signee. The Ed­i­to­rial Board con­sists of Ed­i­to­rial Page Ed­i­tor Rose­mary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Andy Reid, Deb­o­rah Ramirez and Ed­i­tor-in-Chief Howard Saltz.

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