Home News Local news Bill to Protect Territory's Trees Held for Review and Revisions

Bill to Protect Territory's Trees Held for Review and Revisions


Oct. 12, 2005 – The coolest place to be on a hot V.I. summer day is under the protection of an old, native tree as its spreading branches, full of leaves, cut off the harsh sun.
What Sen. Celestino White Sr. called an "honor roll of conservationists" sang the praises of old trees, as they spoke Wednesday at the Committee on Economic Development, Planning and Environmental Protection's hearing on the Tree Conservation Act.
Besides bringing temperatures down, other valuable attributes of trees, such as improving air quality, making the island more attractive to tourists, stopping erosion, and making property values rise, were cited.
The testifiers included Carol Cramer-Burke, executive director, St. Croix Environmental Association; Carlos Tesitor, chairman, St. Croix Environmental Association board; Mario Francis, chairman, V.I. Urban and Community Forestry; Olasee Davis, environmentalist and cooperative extension specialist, University of the Virgin Islands; Stafford Crossman, deputy commissioner of Agriculture; and Aaron Hutchins, director of Planning and Natural Resources' Division of Environmental Protection.
Although all of the witnesses spoke of the act "as long overdue," they also spoke of the many flaws in the act coming before the committee.
Many of the flaws pointed out were typographical errors and inconsistencies – so many, in fact, that some speculated the current bill had been pulled together, without a thorough re-reading, from a bill offered about 16 years ago. However, there were some substantive disagreements, also.
Crossman pointed out that in the act, which focuses on indigenous trees, "There is no mention of special trees such as historic trees, landmark trees, trees with cultural significance, or trees that have been designated as big trees."
Hutchins was one of the first to point out that, although the bill calls for more regulation and observations at development sites, there was no funding source identified to pay for this responsibility that would fall on DPNR. He said his department issues between 50 and 150 permits for development sites each month and the act mandates three inspections of those sites to look at how trees are handled. Hutchins said he would need two certified arborists and two other employees to see those responsibilities were carried out.
DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett echoed Hutchins in a letter to the committee. "Paramount among these concerns is that the public and government employees will become frustrated if inadequate funding is provided to implement this act."
Plaskett also urged that more positive language be used to protect threatened and endangered indigenous trees from extinction. He suggested that the act not only ensure that there not be a net loss of trees but "to encourage a net gain."
Also mentioned by a couple testifiers, and not addressed in this act, was the lack of designation of who would take care of trees along the highways and roads.
Crossman said, "The matter of obtaining tree-care permits for public trees, particularly those along roadsides, should be clearly outlined, beginning with something as simple as who is responsible for applying for the permit. This might sound obvious, but there are times when the roles of departments are not clear."
Crossman also said he would like to see the mention of "pruning" more often in the act. He said the bill generally says when there is a problem the tree must be cut down.
Francis spoke most passionately about preserving native trees. He said, "Emphasizing the uniqueness and utility of our natural vegetation may help curb the islands' continuing tendency to become simply a landscaped replica of the Southeast United States."
Eleanor Gibney, of the V.I. Urban and Forestry Council, wrote the committee, "I believe it would be possible to redraft a proposal that would help protect indigenous trees and forests, which could perhaps be combined with legislation that would conserve urban trees and provide for proper tree care on public property and streets."
Trees listed in the act included: guavaberry, sweet pea, wild cinnamon, lignum vitae, marie; galba, satinwood:yellowheart, yellow prickle, retama, fustic, guazama, wild mesple, West Indian elm, divi-divi, black calabash, mamee-apple, mastic, twinberry, bayrum tree, soapberry, vahl's boxwood, Jamaica caper, prickly ash, red mangrove. black mangrove, and white mangrove.
Several speakers argued that list should be expanded.
Sen. Neville James, chairman of the committee, suggested early on in the meeting that the bill should be held in committee until changes are made to it. Committee members agreed and voted to hold the bill until the next scheduled meeting.
Committee members at the meeting were Sens. James, White, Liston Davis, Norman Jn Baptiste. Sens. Craig Barshinger and Usie Richards were excused.

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