Protecting trees will help us all

Published 10:39 am Friday, February 23, 2007

By Staff
At least think before you cut.
That’s the basic idea of a proposed ordinance in Greenville.
This week that city’s planning and zoning commission voted 5-1 to recommend a plan to the Greenville City Council that would require developers to consult with city staff on which trees they propose to cut down.
Yes, you can say this is another level of governmental legislation. In this case, Greenville had to seek special authorization from the state Legislature to get this far, The Daily Reflector reported.
The newspaper reported that Public Works Director Tom Tysinger made it clear that developers can still cut down trees. The ordinance, he said, is designed to serve as a speed bump, causing developers to consider alternatives to cutting down trees to make way for a new home, apartment complex or business.
It takes only a few minutes to chop down a tree, but it could take a generation to replace it.
What the Greenville City Council doesn’t want to happen is for people to start cutting down trees on a piece of land “without any idea of what they want to do with it,” Tysinger said.
The ordinance affects trees 6 inches or more in diameter, when measured 4 1/2 feet above the ground, on property scheduled for development. A plan showing which trees would be saved would have to be approved by the city before work begins.
The ordinance prohibits cutting down the trees within a zone of up to 50 feet from highways and adjacent developed property and 25 feet for borders on undeveloped property. After approval of the plan, owners could cut trees at their discretion.
Regulations would not apply to properties of 2 acres or less. Land clear-cut for forestry or without an approved plan would be prohibited from development for three years under the proposal.
The National Association of Home Builders, which has reason to oppose rules that make development harder, also appears to understand tree preservation can be a good thing. The association’s Web site points out that leaving mature trees can be a cost-effective measure to clearing a site and then landscaping with nursery stock. Keeping trees not only saves money in the landscaping budget, but in the case of some larger trees, the benefits are priceless because some larger trees can’t be had at any price.
Like any rules, tree ordinances can be too restrictive. Common sense needs to come into play, and we believe that has been the case of Greenville’s rules.
There would be “rare cases” where clear-cutting of trees still might be the best use, Tysinger said.
The economic benefits of trees is they can save energy. Air-conditioning costs are lower in a tree-shaded home. Heating costs are reduced when a home has a windbreak. And landscaped homes are more valuable than those without landscaping, according to the International Society of Arboriculture. There are also the environment benefits because trees clean the air and help keep water clean.
Perhaps it’s time for smaller cities, like Washington, to step up to the plate and start discussing tree preservation.