Friday, November 3, 2023 Blog · News

TAKE ACTION: Protect Charleston County Trees

by Lily Abromeit

Say NO to Charleston County Public Works Exemption for Grand Tree Removal  



Charleston County Council has proposed amendments to the tree protection and preservation ordinance that would exempt county-led road projects from needing authorization from the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) before cutting down trees. This could lead to the loss of hundreds of grand trees all across Charleston County. 

Since 1992, the Charleston area has lost more than 10,000 acres of tree coverage. We should be protecting our trees, not making it easier to cut more of them down. 

Currently, all requests to remove protected trees must be reviewed and approved by the BZA. Charleston County wants to eliminate the BZA’s authority from this process for county-led road projects and consolidate the decision-making power to them alone. This removes a step in the process of cutting down protected trees that we cannot afford to lose.  


Show Up For Our Trees 

On October 9th, Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend denial of proposed amendments to the tree protection and preservation ordinance that would exempt county-led road projects from needing authorization from the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) before cutting down trees.

At the November 14 County Council meeting, there was a huge show of support for the trees! 25 people spoke in opposition to the proposed tree amendments and 134 letters were sent in opposition. The message was overwhelming: The citizens of Charleston County believe there needs to be accountability, public input, and serious consideration of the true value of our trees in Charleston County. Public Works should not be granted exemption from the process that has been put in place to protect our grand trees.

On November 30th, County Council held first reading and voted to revise the amendments by adding tree mitigation and limited site plan review. They will now be sent back to Planning Commission for a new recommendation. The revisions do not address our concerns with Public Works exemption. Mark December 11th on your calendar for the Planning Commission Meeting!

Why This Matters 

“Our predecessors purposefully encouraged the growth of grand trees close to the roadway to make their travels cooler and more pleasing to the eye. As a collection of living historical artifacts, these venerable trees, in my humble opinion now represent an invaluable asset to our community. They connect us to our shared past in a very tangible, and even visceral manner. Towering over our fast-moving vehicles to remind us that we are small and fleeting. The close proximity of these trees to the road is not a result of natural coincidence or neglectful maintenance, rather the long cultivation of roadside trees in this area is the active expression of deep historical ideas and values that shaped our community. … We deem these trees to possess enduring value that trumps all efforts to sweep them aside for the sake of modern convenience.” 

 — Dr. Nic Butler from Charleston Time Machine 

 The trees in Charleston County are valuable in both their character and resilience.  

Grand trees are a defining cultural feature of the Lowcountry and have characterized our communities for centuries.  

Trees help build resilience in the face of climate change, increased urban development, and flooding. 

Trees, especially mature ones, provide shade with their extensive canopies that cool pavement on hot summer days.  Their root systems stretch underground and soak up excess water from heavy rain and flooding events—up to 10,000 gallons of stormwater a year for mature trees!

Their strong root systems are also beneficial at holding soil together and curbing erosion. Trees offset carbon emissions, breathe in carbon dioxide, and breathe out oxygen, providing humans and animals with clean air. 

Tree-lined roads are one of the defining elements of the Lowcountry. We must protect the things that make the Lowcountry special. 

It is crucial that the BZA remains as the independent board to evaluate proposals for protected tree removals for everyone.  

Charleston County Public Works should not be granted an exemption. If they are allowed to cut down trees without the required consideration of minimal impacts, Charleston County will see an increase in losses of trees across county roads, and with it the loss of a defining feature of our Lowcountry culture. 


Consider our trees: they are our history, our present, and—if we make the right decisions—our future. 

Stand Up For Our Trees 

  • There are many ways you can show your support for Charleston County’s trees. Spreading awareness and educating others on what’s going on is the best way you can stand up for our trees!
  • Contact Charleston County Council
  • Write a Letter-to-the-Editor to submit to the Post & Courier
  • Sign a citizen-driven petition: Charleston Speak Up
  • Listen and share SURGE Radio’s recent segment on the tree amendments to learn more about the issue
  • Tie a bow around roadside trees with yarn to draw attention to the trees that could be affected by these amendment changes. Take a photo and send it to us to share on our social media pages. And, send in photos of trees that mean something to you!  

What Can You Say? 

  • The Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend Charleston County Council DENY the amendments. I encourage members of the Planning Commission to once again recommend denial of the proposed amendments to the tree protection ordinance. 
  • Tree mitigation is important, but it does not go far enough to address the significant loss of grand trees from the environment and our Lowcountry home.
  • Grand trees are fundamental to the culture and character of Charleston. 
  • Trees provide much-needed shade and wildlife habitat. 
  • Trees help offset carbon emissions, clean our air, and absorb stormwater.  
  • A report from the Post & Courier in 2020 revealed that the Charleston area has lost more than 10,000 acres of tree coverage since 1992. 
  • Requiring that tree removals for county-led road projects are reviewed by the BZA helps incentivize designing roads to minimize impacts to grand trees. 
  • Having an independent board evaluate proposals for protected tree removals is a productive method to help ensure we lose protected trees only when absolutely necessary.


Download the “Protect Charleston’s Trees” handout

Protect Charleston's Trees


Questions? Reach out to Emma Berry with the Coastal Conservation League at [email protected] or 843-972-3485

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