Rep. Edwards seeks to kill tree protections
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.