By Margaret Kirkland
Amelia Tree Conservancy
July 4, 2022
At the June 21 City Commission meeting, Julie Ferreira and Commissioner Kreger expressed concern regarding the weak protection of our mature trees in Fernandina Beach. Mike Lednovich immediately put this item on the agenda for the July 5 Commission Workshop. Amelia Tree Conservancy (ATC) shares these concerns and hopes the community will attend. This problem needs to be addressed in order to establish a culture in the City that supports our mature canopy.
Section 4.05.14 of the Fernandina Beach Land Development Code is quite specific regarding many factors related to the handling of trees during development, such as the establishment of tree protection zones (TPZ) in specific locations with certain materials and dimensions, mulching, not storing materials and equipment within the TPZ, and trenching near trees. Unfortunately, these regulations are not being adequately enforced. My May 6 message to the Urban Forester and Planning and Conservation Director related to construction on 1st Ave. south of Sadler and in Amelia Bluff.
Over the years, we have also seen consistent damage done by staff charged with maintaining rights of way (ROW) and public spaces (for example, Bosque Bello and the trees in the ROW at the ball fields on Hickory). All of this was brought to the attention of Commissioners and staff repeatedly.
Why does this matter?
Ignoring tree loss and how it relates to climate change will hasten unbearably hot temperatures and extensive flooding. Even the most conservative professional organizations now point to the importance of 1) preparing for resiliency and sustainability; 2) rethinking their previous approaches; and 3) utilizing nature-based approaches such as land conservation, wetland protection and living shorelines wherever possible. On a barrier island, this includes protection and strengthening of our dunes, protection and strengthening of our river shoreline, protection of wetlands and flood zones, land conservation and protecting our tree canopy. Addressing these elements of our environment successfully will also keep our flood insurance rates as low as possible, reduce exorbitant long-range expenses for flood/storm damage and more dramatic resiliency efforts, facilitate the acquisition of grant funding, and optimize our quality of life.
What do we need to do to protect our mature canopy?
- Clearly, we need to enforce the regulations we already have and ensure proper maintenance of public spaces. There has been some positive progress recently, but we need to go much farther.
- The City has conserved some parcels. We need to continue to conserve as much as possible.
Sierra Club partnered with the City to provide training for the Urban Forester and other staff who care for the trees in our City. Danny and Chuck Lippi, Master Arborists who are among the most highly respected arborists in the state, provided a series of training sessions. Unfortunately, according to Ms. Ferreira and Commissioner Kreger, their training is not necessarily being applied. We need to ensure that those working with our trees, parks and rights of way are well trained and supervised by credentialed staff.
- The Planning and Conservation Department has awakened public interest in Heritage Trees. We need to maintain and expand this effort, which ATC is supporting.
- The City, Keep Nassau Beautiful and community members have been planting trees. Since these trees will not be able to contribute significantly to our resiliency and sustainability for many years, we need to continue planting, maintain our mature trees and develop a succession plan to replace trees that die.
Perhaps most important is that we need to establish a culture that protects our trees. To a large extent, this depends on the actions, attitudes and communication of those at the top. Whatever Commissioners, the City Manager, other Charter Officers, the Assistant City Manager and department heads do and communicate impacts any effort in the City. So, it is critical that 1) all in these positions be knowledgeable, 2) regulations of various departments be coordinated and mutually supported and 3) they exhibit leadership in the establishment of a culture that encourages staff and citizens to build a strong future for our canopy, our residents and our guests.