The Biscayne Times

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Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
February 2017

Why are all our mature trees being cut down?

APix_YourGarden_2-17s I observe the rapid diminishing of the mature tree canopy in Miami-Dade County, and especially in the City of Miami, I wonder, is there no remedy for this? Are we the last generation to see mature trees outside of parks in our area? Are the Tree City USA municipalities and politicians just giving lip service to an out-of-date environmental movement and granting developers the freedom to work around environmental ordinances?

I see these issues firsthand. While working for landowners, architects, and developers, I rarely ever hear “I want to do the right thing” or “Let’s see how we can develop this property and preserve these mature trees.”

Of course I come across professionals who do care, but too often I hear: “This is my property and I should be able to do whatever I want to it.” Most often I hear this statement from developers who are building on spec and just want to flip the new structure. “We have the right to utilize the property to its highest and best use,” they say, in essence, “and we should be able to remove the damn trees!”

This makes me think back to a zoning hearing many years ago in which a longtime property owner wanted to subdivide his land. He’d lived on it before zoning was established and apparently was allowed to go before the zoning board one more time to make changes.

When the zoning board declined his plan, he reminded the board that in the not-so-distant past, his property had been used as a pig farm, and if the board wouldn’t give him what he wanted, he’d just start raising pigs again.

Since this was eventually to become a very trendy neighborhood, the board acquiesced. But the property owner knew that from then on he’d have to follow the zoning ordinances. He’d done his homework.

It is startling to meet professionals who haven’t done their homework and just go ahead and cut down their trees. I also know that in many areas, if not most, they won’t get caught unless someone speaks up.

The photo that accompanies this article shows the base of a trunk on a dead or dying Dade County pine tree. It may be difficult to see in this photo, but there is a red circle in the middle of the trunk that highlights a hole that had been drilled there.

I’d been retained to write a tree evaluation for this property, which had many different species of trees on it, including about ten Dade County pines.

When I first arrived at the site, I was able to get a clear view of all the trees. There were no structures on the property, and the ground was well maintained and clear of any debris and weeds. So I was looking forward to an easy walk on the property.

I got out of my car to get started when I suddenly noticed the canopy on all the pines. All of the needles looked scorched, as if they’d been hit with a blow torch. Okay, maybe one or two trees could have been struck by lightning -- but all of the other trees on the site were in decent condition, with all of their foliage normal looking and intact.

As I worked my way through the property, inspecting the trees one by one, every pine tree had a drill hole at its base. Of course, the foliage (needles) on the trees was all in the same scorched condition. Really?

These trees had been poisoned! Did the genius who poisoned these trees think that the municipal employees who’d be reviewing my report and the plans for the site wouldn’t look at an aerial photo of the property?

I have also noticed in my work throughout the tri-county area that many, if not most, of the environmental departments are quite small, with few staff members. These departments are supposed to coordinate with planning departments and developers, but they almost always seem to be backed up.

I hear lots of complaints from clients about how long the evaluation and approval process takes, and while this is often true, it’s also true that many developers and property owners haven’t done their homework and are suddenly surprised when their project comes to a screeching halt because they didn’t follow the correct process, however onerous it may seem to them.

Why are these environmental departments so small? These municipalities must be receiving an immense amount of money in the form of fees paid by developers. Why not hire a few more reviewers and get the process moving more quickly?

Maybe this is by choice. Maybe these Tree City USA Municipalities are only giving lip service.


Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified arborist municipal specialist, retired director of horticulture at Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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