Biloxi arborist explains what 'protected trees' really means

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Just how protected are protected trees in Biloxi? Viewers have been posing that question to WLOX after several recent cases of live oaks being cut down to make way for commercial development, so we went looking for answers.

Construction is underway to build a new gas station on Eisenhower Drive. After a decade of looking at a vacant boarded up restaurant, Biloxi leaders said they jumped at this opportunity, even though it meant losing trees.

"We felt the development was better, a good development for the site. Good for the neighborhood. The loss of three trees, we thought, was a good trade off," said Arborist Eric Nolan. "He's going to come in with a good landscaping plan. There's going to be, I think, 20 trees planted for those three that were taken out."

Nolan said before taking out a live oak, bald cypress, magnolia or a tree more than eight inches in diameter, a commercial developer must receive a permit. Cutting is not always the developer's suggestion. Nolan said after architects for the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum wanted to cut down four protected trees, he suggested that 10 come down because the trees weren't healthy.

"When it's wide open property and all I have to do is have a contractor go in there and take a tree down, than if I have to have a contractor go in next to the brand new Seafood museum and cut a tree down right next to those big glass windows," Nolan said. "So it gets more expensive that way."

Nolan said some people misunderstand what a protected tree means

"They're required to get a permit to remove them. It doesn't mean that it's held sacrosanct," Nolan said. "By the ordinance, we cannot unreasonably restrict the use of the property. So if you get a tree dead center in the middle of the property and the building is proposed dead center. That's the only place it can go, you know, the tree has got to go."

Nolan said Biloxi encourages developers to work to keep as many protected trees as possible, but sometimes it's just not possible. There are about 30 protected trees on land the city of Biloxi is considering leasing for a baseball stadium. Nolan said he has not been involved in the design process.

"I'm hoping that they keep some trees on the outer perimeters," said Nolan. "But the ones on the interior, there's going to have to be a decision made whether to remove them, move them. That's going to be their call."

Nolan said the McDonald's on Cedar Lake has a tree the company wanted to cut down, but the city insisted it stay and the tree is thriving.

Nolan said the city can issue permits to cut down up to five protected trees per development. Any more than that requires a hearing before the planning commission. He said pines, pecan trees, and popcorn trees are exempt from that requirement because they tend to have structural problems as they get larger.

Copyright 2013 WLOX. All rights reserved.