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Growing Pains: The connection between clear cutting and population growth

You’ve probably driven down the road recently and realized the woods that a forest is suddenly gone.

JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Clear cutting has been happening on Racetrack Road. 

"It’s a shame," Jacksonville-native Duncan Corbitt said.  "Like we need another place to buy underwear."

The mass removal of trees is connected to the number of people moving to northeast Florida. The trees are cut so homes, shopping centers and roads can be built to accommodate the area's growing population.

"I’m very sad, worried, and mad about all the trees being gone," Corbitt nodded.

Corbitt wrote First Coast News with concerns about the amount of clear-cutting going on in Jacksonville. He says he has planted many trees in his yard in the Sandalwood area 

"[A tree] provides a lot of homes for wildlife. It helps keep your home cool. It helps clean the CO2 out of the air."

Danny Lippi, a consulting arborist who specializes in tree protection during construction, said the key to the issue is economics.

"The flatter and clearer a piece of property is, the more square footage you have to work with and build on," Lippi said.

Some developers say it is also less expensive to build on properties that don’t have trees, especially when it comes to adding water and sewage pipes, keeping home prices lower. 

Lippi said every tree has a price. Either the developer will pay for a permit to cut down the large trees or will pay a fine after already cutting them.

"Some developers, especially big national chains, have so much money that they will easily pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines just to clear a property and build as they want," Lippi noted. "Every local government like a city or county has its own laws you have to adhere to for environmental impacts."

However, even with those hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, Duncan believes that is not enough.

"There needs to be stricter regulations," he said.

Some developers will clear cut a piece of property and then bring in smaller trees and plant those.

"But the problem with that is there is very little oversight as to the quality of the trees being replanted or the quality of the installation techniques," Lippi said. "So they look good for about a year and then they start to die."

"If you go to other parts of the state like central Florida – Alachua County or Gainesville – they incorporate big trees into other communities," Lippi explained. "But here in Northeast Florida, it’s not so much. It’s really clear it all, get it out of the way."

But a few people are working to build around trees.

Lippi pointed to some land on U.S. 1 in St. Johns near Nease High School. 

"This is a property a developer has purchased," he said. 

There is a majestic live oak tree on it.

"The client is impressed with the tree and they believe it will amenity value to their property," Lippi said. 

Unlike many parcels that have had trees scraped from them, this land will still have this tree on it.


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