The Town of Fort Myers Beach Marine Resources Task Force is proposing the town make changes to the town’s tree protection code in light of clear-cutting in town.
Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said there was concern for the “clearing of valuable trees from properties as part of the overall issue of people trying to maximize what they can build on their land and not having a mechanism to replace that canopy.”
The task force recommended the town council remove language allowing single family homeowners to remove up to three trees annually with no permit required. It also requires inspections prior to permit issuance. It also requires the following conditions to be added to permits: 1) remove exotics, 2) replace protected trees that must be removed for beneficial use of the property, 3) create a tree fund to which property owners can contribute towards replacement should not be a viable option due to spacing constraints.
“To me, it’s gotten to a crisis point with clear-cutting on the island,” Vice Major Rexann Hosafros said.
Hernstadt said he wants to require an inspection be conducted by town staff before any tree-cutting is done. The town’s current ordinance requires permitting for the removal of protected tree species, but exemptions allow for the removal of up to three protected trees annually. State statute allows for the removal of trees without town permitting with a supporting assessment from a qualified professional, according to town staff. The town’s comprehensive plan calls for shade trees along streets and walkways.
According to a summary of the policy being considered by the town, the comprehensive plan gives a strong preference for native trees such as live oak, gumbo limbo, sea grape, cabbage palm, mastic, Jamaica dogwood, mahogany, black olive, strangler fig, pigeon plum, and buttonwood; and vii. a prohibition on the use of invasive trees such as Australian pine, Brazilian pepper, melaleuca, and Java plum.
“For quality of life, trees can mitigate heat island effects. Heat islands can cause daytime temperatures in urban areas about 1-7°F higher than temperatures in outlying areas and nighttime temperatures about 2-5°F higher. Causes of heat island effects include reduction of natural landscapes, heat absorption and release by structures and impervious surfaces, and reduced wind flow caused by tall structures,” the summary states.
The proposed changes to the town’s tree code requires that the replacement trees permitted to be removed “with protected tree species of the same size, compatible species and same number. If the size of replacement trees and/or the size of the property are prohibitive to tree replacement, then the mitigation value of the removed trees shall be paid to the Town’s Tree Fund. Where mitigation is necessary, an appraisal prepared by a qualified tree professional using the appropriate appraisal method found in determining the mitigation value of roadside vegetation.”
Penalties, fines and tree replacement payments will be deposited into the tree fund. The public may donate money to the town’s tree fund to assist the Town in its beautification efforts.
The new regulations are expected to be further reviewed at the town’s next council meeting.