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Mitigation standard doesn't offset tree loss, group says
By Charles Swenson
It doesn’t make sense to let someone cut a live oak that measures 5 feet across and replace it with three trees with trunks just 3 inches wide, but that’s what could happen under a revised set of tree regulations for Georgetown County, according to the Sierra Club.
The conservation group urged the county Planning Commission last week to adopt a different standard to make sure that there is no net loss of significant trees due to land development. Significant trees are defined as hardwoods, generally with a trunk diameter of 8 inches or more.
The commission is revising the tree regulations, and expects to hold a public hearing in December.
The revision increases the size of trees that must be planted to mitigate any unauthorized cutting from 2-inch trunk diameters to 3 inches.
Bob Schumacher, a Sierra Club member, said that doesn’t make sense.
“I’ll cut down this 60-inch oak and replace it with three skinny trees,” he said.
Instead, he said the commission should consider “basal area” instead of trunk diameter.
An oak with a 60-inch trunk has a basal area of almost 20 square feet. The three replacement trees have a total basal area well under 1 square foot.
The basal area is related to a tree’s canopy, so adopting it as a standard will make sure development doesn’t diminish the county’s tree cover, Schumacher said.
It would make sense to require property owners to plant more trees rather than larger trees, because nurseries usually don’t stock large trees, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.
Commission chairman Jeff Kinard said there are already places where replacement trees were planted too close together and now need to be thinned. “We could be over-planting,” he said.
“I’d like to see that,” commission member Brian Henry said. “That would be a good problem to have.”
The revised ordinance would create a “tree bank” and would allow owners to fund that if they can’t plant replacement trees on their own property. That would solve the problem of over-planting, commission member Glenda Shoulette said.
Kinard, who was initially concerned the tree bank would encourage more cutting, agreed.
“I’ve come 180 degrees on that,” he said.
The tree bank could be used to help improve the landscape along roads leading into the county, commission member Tommy Edwards said.
The Sierra Club also proposed a five-year moratorium on zoning changes or development permits for land that has been clear cut as part of a commercial timber operation. That would allow time for trees to be replanted and establish themselves, Schumacher said.
Commercial timbering and farming would be exempt from the ordinance.
Johnson said logging companies would probably support the moratorium, because they get blamed when land is clear cut for development.
That’s why a proposal to protect longleaf pines bigger than 12 inches in diameter is limited to Waccamaw Neck.
“There are more tree huggers on Waccamaw Neck,” Johnson said.
“If we’re doing a county-wide tree ordinance, we’re doing a county-wide tree ordinance,” Kinard said.
“Everybody doesn’t think the way people on the Waccamaw Neck think. That’s being blunt,” Edwards said.
“You try to put things where they’re going to be accepted first,” Shoulette said.
The commission expects to get another draft of the revised regulations this month and hold a hearing in December so they can be sent to County Council for approval.