Lowcountry trees need champions more than ever on Arbor Day this Friday.
Hurricane Matthew knocked over more trees than we can count when it crossed Beaufort County as a Category 2 storm on Oct. 8.
Since then, some people have been saying we had too many trees. They say county, municipal and private regulations to preserve trees need to be whittled down to the size of a No. 2 pencil so our naked fortresses can be unscathed the next time we get hit by a hurricane.
These people are wrong.
We are not Manhattan. Manhattan still has plenty of housing available for those who want that. But we are trying to be Central Park. Today, more than ever, we must understand our heritage and fight this new assault on it.
From the beginning of recorded history, people who have discovered Beaufort County have remarked lovingly on its trees.
Today, that has translated into a number of tree protections.
These protective ordinances and Tree City USA designations represent the DNA of Beaufort County, its municipalities and private developments. None of it is the result of snap decisions, or willy-nilly meddling.
A tree-protection ordinance was among the earliest moves of the Town of Hilton Head Island after incorporation in 1983. That was an extension of the wishes and land-use covenants of the island’s first major developers, the Fraser family in Sea Pines, the Hack family in Port Royal and Shipyard, and the McIntosh family in Spanish Wells.
To egg the town on, citizens held a Save Our Trees march down Pope Avenue.
Suffice it to say, if you don’t like trees, you don’t like Beaufort County. And if you didn’t notice that you were buying land along an ocean that feeds hurricanes, you are not sharp enough to shape public policy.
Trees are both an environmental and economic resource, contributing to Beaufort’s sense of place.
Coastal Conservation League
Tree protection is a matter of minutiae, and God bless the people who pore over it all. We have both incentives to protect trees and punishments for those who do not. We have tree banks, wherein I could pay for trees to be planted elsewhere when the pines in my front yard have to go.
But on this Arbor Day, and in the months ahead as tree protections are re-examined, we must see the forest for the trees.
If we no longer have little old ladies marching in the streets, rest their souls, we do have a few champions left.
One of them called me this week. Betsy Jukofsky, who wrote a gardening column in The Island Packet for more than a quarter of a century and who the xeriscape garden at Town Hall is named for, is worried that Lowcountry residents today no longer get it.
“Maybe the broiling sun next summer and not enough shade will make it more relevant,” she sighed.
The Coastal Conservation League is fighting for trees. A petition it organized this summer to urge a tighter Beaufort County tree ordinance recites concisely the big picture:
“Trees are both an environmental and economic resource, contributing to Beaufort’s sense of place. A strong tree ordinance will be comprehensive in nature, help buffer incompatible land uses, absorb heat, reduce soil erosion and stormwater runoff, contribute to wildlife habitat and diversity, and preserve an identity for Beaufort County. We believe the tree ordinance should be consistent, encourage wildlife corridors, and be appropriate for the scale of development.”
Maybe the broiling sun next summer and not enough shade will make it more relevant.
Sea Pines developer Charles E. Fraser was a fan of Julian Huxley’s essay, “Man’s Challenge: The Use of the Earth.” He included this snippet of it in early brochures touting his fledgling development:
“One function of the earth whose importance we have to recognize is that of wilderness, the function of allowing men and women to get away from the complications of industrial civilization, and make contact with fine scenery and unspoilt nature ...
“Wilderness lovers ... also include a sizable proportion of interesting characters and original thinkers. Wilderness is, in the long run, one of the major functions functions Humanity demands from the surface of the earth.”
This concept, or worldview, formed a major building block for Beaufort County’s economic success over the past 60 years. Even as it was being developed, it was understood, and even celebrated, that this special place is not for everybody.
The day we forget that is the day we sell our birthright for a mess of pottage.