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Published on April 16th, 2008 | by Shirley Siluk Gregory

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Modest Victory for Pensacola Trees

An historic Southern live oak in Florida. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user John Bradley.)One of the most beautiful trees in the Deep South is undoubtedly the live oak: its thick trunk, twisting branches and wide canopy evoke romantic images of “Gone With the Wind” allees, and its strong, sturdy nature lets it survive and thrive for hundreds of years, droughts, hurricanes and fires notwithstanding.

The only thing that really seems to threaten these stately oaks is, of course, people … development in particular.

Fortunately, more people are choosing trees over development, or — at least — over over-development. And the trees have won at least a partial victory in the northwest Florida city of Pensacola, whose old historic center is graced with many majestic Southern live oaks.

For months, environmentalists and developers in Pensacola have wrangled over proposed changes to the city’s tree code, especially with regards to what defines a “heritage tree.” On one side was Emerald Coastkeeper Inc., which wanted protections for trees with trunk diameters greater than 24 inches. On the other side was Moulton Properties, which wanted to define heritage trees as those with diameters of 44 inches or more.

Now, it seems, both sides have settled on a compromise: 34 inches. Not what the green groups initially wanted, but a number that should certainly save more trees than developers otherwise would have. Another plus: the city is also eyeing an increase — from $250 to $500 — in the tree fund payment required for every protected tree that developers remove but don’t replant or replace.

So thanks, Coastkeepers, for your patience and persistence! The stately oaks of Pensacola thank you too.




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About the Author

Shirley Siluk Gregory, a transplanted Chicagoan now living in Northwest Florida, represents the progressive half of Green Options' Red, Green and Blue segment. She holds a bachelor's degree in Geological Sciences from Northwestern University but graduated in 1984, just when the market for geologists was flatter than the Florida landscape. Just as well, though: she had little interest in spending her life either in a laboratory or, heaven forbid, an oil field. So, of course, she went into journalism. After extremely low-paying but fun and educational stints at several suburban Chicago weeklies and dailies, Shirley and her then-boyfriend/now-husband Scott found themselves displaced by a media buyout and spending the next several years working as freelancers. Among their credits: The Chicago Tribune, a publication for the manufactured-housing industry, and Web Hosting Magazine, a now-defunct publication that came and went with the dotcom era. Shirley's always been concerned about nature and conservation (and an avid pack-rat, as her family can attest to), but became even more rabidly interested in the environment primarily due to two factors: the growing signs that global warming was real and threatening, and the birth of her son, Noah, in 2003. Suddenly, the prospect of a world that might not be quite as habitable in 40 or 50 years took on a whole new, and personal, meaning. Living where she lives now also helped light the fire of Shirley's environmental awareness: her hometown was severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and beaten up again by Hurricane Dennis in 2005. That, and the fact that she and her family were vacationing in New Orleans until the day before Katrina -- and spent 12 hours driving home for a trip that normally takes 3 -- has made Shirley deeply appreciate how fragile our lifestyles are, and how dependent they are on sound management of natural resources and sustainable living practices. That's why she's become a passionate reader and writer about all things green and sustainable.



  • Mark

    Don’t give too much credit to Pensacola. First off, 34 inches is huge for a tree. This means that a lot of trees are still left unprotected. It’s really just lip service to come up with such an ordinance as this one. I’m kind of amazed the EmeraldCoastkeepers didn’t consider that. The idea of an ordinance just makes a lot of people think it’s ok then to cut down ones that are smaller, and as I said, 34 inches is a pretty big tree. I’m sure you could walk around and find some nice-looking 18 inch trees that are no longer even considered as protection-worthy. Pensacola really does not have a very good environmental record.

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