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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Australian pines: save them or slay them?

Island cities recently have all undertaken projects to remove Australian pines from city rights of way, citing a potential public danger and a Florida Department of Environmental Protection order to remove the non-native trees where possible.

At the same time, however, Island residents organized in a group called Stop Taking Our Pines and another organization, Tree Lovers, have petitioned the three cities in support of keeping the pines and have asked for a referendum on the issue. More than 100 people signed a petition that was given to the three cities Sept. 30.

STOP asked the cities "to consider the destruction and erosion prevented" by the trees, particularly during the recent hurricanes.

The group also opposes removal of Australian pines on the grounds they are of aesthetic value, prevent global warming, diffuse wind and are a natural habitat for many birds on the Island.

"These trees are great old things and an integral part of the integrity of the Island," said STOP. "They have allowed this Island to form over the years by sustaining the wildlife and preventing erosion. If they are removed, we will not have the benefit and beauty of these large trees again in our lifetime.

"We ask that this issue be brought before the voters in a referendum," said STOP.

While noting that public areas and easements must be kept clear "for the safety of all," the group said all intrusive or hazardous growth should be removed, not just the pines. They also asked for a solution other than "eradication."

"Let's not let our 'storm stress' force us into making hasty, imprudent ultimatums regarding our precious environment," STOP concluded.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn pointed out that the city does not randomly remove Australian pines from city property, just those that appear to be a public danger if they should fall. In addition, the DEP requires such removal, she said.

At the same time, she noted, "The city can't dictate to a private property owner what trees they can or cannot remove from their property."

The DEP has said previously that while Australian pines may look nice, they are prone to topple during storms because of their shallow root system. In addition, when the pine needles fall onto the ground, they block the growth of native vegetation such as grass and plants.

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