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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.