Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Saving trees during land development

The role of tree preservation ordinances



I read an opinion piece yesterday in the online version of the Pensacola [FL] News Journal: "Trees don't have to be sacrificed for development." The author, Larry B. Johnson, wrote about a new supermarket that was under construction in Gulf Breeze, a neighboring city. The developer had fenced off some oak trees so they wouldn't be damaged by heavy machinery during the building process.

Johnson wondered in his article why his city (Pensacola) didn't make a similar effort to preserve trees during land development. He noted that some development projects were coming up in areas with 100-year-old oaks. The trees would be an asset to the community if they could be saved.

The article had several comments from local readers. The following, from a reader who signed himself as Wesmun, caught my attention. Wesmun is responding both to the article and to another comment that the Pensacola tree preservation ordinance needs to be revised.

Let me give an intelligent answer...... On developments where fill has to be brought in (sometimes 10' deep) in order to make the whole development drain into an enviromentally [sic] friendly pond, you have to clear out the trees lest you bury them. Most of you tree huggers have no idea of how complicated a development already is thanks to the DEP and county ordinances, but it is a lot easier to save trees on a flat lot like in Gulf Breeze. (Source)


Let's be clear here. The reason a development has to drain into an environmentally-friendly pond is that rain waters can no longer soak into the ground, due to it being paved over.

Here are a few things about this discussion that I recognize as true:
  • Every tree may not be saved when land is developed.
  • Other environmental ordinances may make tree preservation difficult.
  • Tree preservation may make development more expensive.
  • With effort, more trees could be preserved in most developments.
  • Some tree species could help with stormwater management.


There are many reasons to preserve urban trees whenever possible. It's hard to imagine any single mechanism in a city that would have an equal positive effect. For air quality improvement, climate moderation, beauty, wildlife habitat, and property value enhancement, what can possibly take the place of trees?

Developers should inventory the trees on a potential site and develop a layout that preserves as many significant trees as possible. A trained arborist or urban forester should be part of the site-planning team.

Builders, city planners, and concerned "tree-hugging" citizens should cooperate in finding reasonable solutions that are in the long-term best interests of the city's citizens. These solutions should be expressed formally in a tree preservation ordinance, and its provisions should be enforced.

As another commenter on the Pensacola, FL, article mentioned, tree preservation ordinances need to be revisited occasionally to examine whether they are still meeting the needs of the community.

All of these tree-preserving approaches I've mentioned will require communication, cooperation, and consensus by concerned parties -- developers and builders, city planners, "tree-huggers," and the general public. That's how democracies work.

National Association of Home Builders: Tree Preservation Ordinances
A Guide to Developing a Community Tree Preservation Ordinance

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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