a path through the woods leading to the beach
The grassroots Save Our Pines organization has worked for 20 years to protect the Australian pine trees at Fort Zachary Taylor, which were slated for removal. The group is now seeking a permanent exemption to protect the shade trees. HELEN HARRISON/Contributed

The removal of two Australian pines from a parking lot at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, scheduled for April 9, violates a 2008 agreement made between the Department of Environmental Protection and then-State Rep. Ron Saunders on behalf of the local nonprofit group Save Our Pines (SOP).

The agreement states, “No Australian pines will be removed for building, landscaping or hardscaping purposes. The existing pines shall remain unencumbered on the property until their natural death.”

What is disappointing is that up to this point the park service and SOP have worked together in trying to make the park the best it can be. Now, without notice or conversation, two pines are being removed for hardscaping. What hurts is the DEP’s lack of transparency. Why should we trust the state to be forthright in the future? The plans have been in the works since 2021, and we only last week, unexpectedly, found out. By violating the agreement, the park service has broken the trust we have tried so hard to develop. Had we been advised of the plans, we would not have objected as we know a paved lot is good for the park.

Unfortunately without a program for replenishment, the pines will eventually die off due to state legislation preventing a replanting program. However, the law as written allows for exceptions on a case-by-case basis. We Ft. Zach lovers believe our park qualifies and would like a legislative exemption that would allow replacement pines. The City of Key West and the Monroe County Commission each have passed resolutions opposing any removal of the mature pines and advocating a “controlled growth replacement program.”

The pines have NOT been saved. Over the past 18 years, they have dwindled greatly. Save Our Pines is certainly not against native trees. On this particular spit of fill, the pines were the first growth and have proven themselves able to withstand this harsh environment and are controlled from spreading. A balance of pines and natives has worked. Northern Florida parks that have experienced total pine removal have told SOP for years, “Don’t let this happen to you.” 

So where do we go from here? Perhaps we should all ask the park to do the right thing and replace the two pines they unceremoniously removed in violation of the agreement.

For more information visit saveourpines.com and/or contact our state representatives.

Helen Harrison
Founder, Save Our Pines
Key West