Mangroves just don’t get the love.
If city workers had massacred a grove of live oaks or gumbo limbos or tamarinds, mobs of angry citizens would have laid siege to Miami City Hall.
But these were mere mangroves. My Herald colleague Jenny Staletovich reported last week that Miami city workers had hacked down clusters of red and black mangroves down some 330 feet of the Virginia Key waterfront. Apparently, they were clearing the shore near the old Miami Marine Stadium to ready the site for the Miami International Boat Show in February.
Not that the chainsaw gang were on a mangrove-only vendetta. A county environmental inspector reported that the city crew took out Australian pines, Brazilian peppers, sabal palms and seagrapes. But it’s the loss of mangroves that riles environmentalists.
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Let me quote the Miami-Dade County government website describing how mangroves “along the coastal areas of Biscayne Bay stabilize bottom sediments and protect shorelines from erosion and storm surge,” and “provide nesting and roosting habitat for many resident and migrating birds in addition to providing shelter and a safe nursery to growing marine life.”
Except mangroves are shrubby and unappreciated in a county that tends to value trees according to their bigness. Which might explain why the Virginia Key cutdown occurred back in May but folks are only now getting steamed.
And most of that outrage has come out of Key Biscayne, where civic leaders have motives that transcend environmental concerns. The village hates the whole notion of moving the big annual boat show to Virginia Key, with the prospect of an extra 100,000 people adding to the usual traffic nightmares on the Rickenbacker Causeway. When Miami workers removed those mangroves, Key Biscayne was able to couch their objections in terms that sound more noble than carping about increased traffic congestion.
But without the Key Biscayne reaction, the mangrove chop party would have gone the way illegal tree removals usually go in South Florida: Someone — usually a developer— cuts down valuable or beloved trees without a permit. Neighbors raise hell. The city or county levies a fine, which doesn’t much matter, because, by then, the trees are gone. The chopper shrugs off the fine as the cost of doing business.
Officially, we adore our trees. Miami, especially. The city code was supposedly written to make sure the “design and construction of all development activity within the City of Miami is executed in a manner consistent with the preservation of existing trees and to maximize the City's tree canopy to the greatest extent possible.”
Though if the community’s concern for trees really did trump development activity, Miami’s tree canopy would surely cover more than a piddling 12 percent of the city. Other major cities have twice that coverage or more.
The city of Miami has promised to replant the trees on Virginia Key. Because, even though this community has managed to destroy 82 percent of its bayshore mangroves over the years, our official policy has always been that we sure do love our trees.