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Activists concerned about Tampa Bay trees with population growth

Tampa Bay is growing rapidly, but what's happening to our trees?
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Posted at 5:46 AM, Apr 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-22 08:00:44-04

TAMPA, Fla. — With the rapid growth in the Tampa Bay area in the last few years, a major concern for activists is preserving our trees.

The planting and the planning for trees is not something that should sit on the shelf, that needs to be an integrated part of development, development review, permitting,” said Cathy Harrelson, Chair of St. Petersburg Urban Forestry Committee.

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The U.S. Forest Service found that we lost 36 million trees annually from urban and rural communities over a five-year period.

Right before the pandemic, when 330,000 people moved to Florida, the state legislature passed House Bill 1159.

It “prohibits local governments from requiring notices, applications, approvals, permits, fees, or mitigation for pruning, trimming, or removal of trees on residential property if the tree presents a danger.” They also don’t have to replace them.

This means that as more homes go up, more trees are coming down.

Many of the local governments in the past several years have had their hands tied behind their backs by the state,” explained William Moriaty, President of Tampa Bay Reforestation & Environmental Effort, Inc. also known as TREE.

TREE was founded in 1983 and since then, they’ve planted 27,000 trees throughout the Tampa Bay area.

We are not well off monetarily enough to be in courts, battling developers and things like that. So this is our grassroots way of adding back to the environment,” Moriaty said.

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Cities like St. Petersburg and Tampa have tree ordinances requiring things like permits to remove protected trees and developers to replace the canopy from trees they remove.

An example where Tampa took action to hold a developer accountable is The Isles at Old Tampa Bay on South West Shore Boulevard.

Moriaty said it was a massacre of 162-acres that used to include Georgetown Apartments.

After the lot was torn down without the necessary permits, the project halted for years.

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The development website now says: “To date, we have retained and relocated 152 trees onsite and relocated over 700 palm trees to offsite nurseries… This exceeds the 50% City of Tampa tree retention requirement.”

Construction of sewers is taking place right now.

I don't think trees are being worked into the plan enough,” Harrelson exclaimed. “I've actually seen where they've taken down big oak trees and put up these little fancy palms, which are not even natives… it's not even a real tree. It's actually a type of grass.”

So why should we care? Trees are main players in our everyday lives.

  • They provide shade from the sun - which also reduces our home energy bills
  • They take up our CO2 and provide oxygen
  • They’re habitats for wildlife
  • They soak up stormwater

A community with a great tree canopy actually can reduce the cost of our flood insurance,” Harrelson added.

As Tampa Bay continues to grow, they say we can all make sure trees do too.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second-best time is today,” Harrelson concluded.

St Pete is also asking residents to map trees near their homes through an app to help figure out the city’s tree canopy, and where more trees need to be planted.

Click here to sign up for the tree mapping application. Click here for an app to help you identify a tree called Pl@netNet.

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TREE Inc. plants trees across the Bay Area throughout the year, you can email Moriaty to volunteer at treeinctampabay@gmail.com.

There are several Earth Day events happening this weekend and many are giving out free trees for you to plant at home.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is giving away 1,000 free trees. Eligible city residents can register online right now. Pick up is Saturday at the Sulphur Springs pool parking lot between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m.

St Pete is hosting the Green Thumb Festival at Walter Fuller Park Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be food vendors, arts and crafts, along with more than 120 garden, plant and flower vendors and exhibits. Tree giveaways are first come first served Saturday morning.

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On April 30, Pinellas County is also hosting a National Arbor Day Celebration:

  • Pinellas County Urban Forestry & Landscape Services is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day. Take part in fun-filled activities for the whole family: raptor encounters, touch-a-truck, traveling tree walk, tree climbing demonstration, environmental exhibits, tree planting event, and free tree giveaway.
  • Eagle Lake Park 1800 Keene Rd Largo
  • Saturday April 30, 2022
  • Tree planting event: 8:45 a.m. to 9 a.m.
  • Exhibitors and hands-on activities 10 a.m. -2 p.m.
  • Tree Giveaway: preregistered pickup 10 a.m.- 12 p.m., Leftovers first come first Serve 12 p.m. -2 p.m.