Is Tampa’s tree canopy shrinking because of a change in state law?

Is Tampa’s tree canopy shrinking because of a change in state law?

Photo: Times Files

Tree advocates and builders reached what was called a historic compromise on protecting the city’s award-winning tree canopy in the spring of 2019. A week later, a new state law gutted much of Tampa’s and other local governments’ power to set rules about tree removals.

At the time, exasperated city officials and advocates raised concerns about the law’s provisions allowing grand trees to be cut down as long as a certified arborist or landscape architect signed off, cutting city inspectors out of the process. Some large-scale removals that summer ratcheted up their fears.

Nearly three years later the city hopes to figure out if those fears were justified.

Brian Knox, the city’s senior forester examiner, says an upcoming analysis of the city’s canopy is planned for release in 2022. A similar analysis in 2016 found 32 percent of the city covered by tree canopy.

And while the data isn’t in yet, Knox has a pretty good idea what it will say.

“I expect we will see a decline in the canopy,” Knox said.

It’s not just the state law, he said. Tampa’s hot development streak has also taken a toll as new houses or commercial developments often require the removal of mature shade trees. Although they’re often replaced with younger trees (developers can also pay into a city tree-planting fund as an alternative), it can often take at least a decade for the canopy to be replenished.

Still, the state’s preemption of the city’s tree code, in place since the early 1970s, has likely had an effect, Knox said. How much of one is hard to know since the law has no provision for a property owner to inform the city if trees are removed because they’re deemed dangerous to persons or property.

“We really don’t have a way to monitor the information. We can’t really factor the trees that are removed in our decision making,” Knox said. “That’s the part that makes it difficult.”…

Want to find a certified arborist and other tree-related resources? Knox suggests these websites: and

Charlie Frago, Times staff

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