Ray Wunderlich, founder of Wunderfarms, led a restoration effort to plant 200 pine trees at a former Fort De Soto spoil site (a dumping ground for excess minerals, sand, shells, and dirt) on Feb. 4 and Feb. 5.
Fort DeSoto was not his first choice to plant the pines.
“The impetus was a piece of property near where I live in St. Petersburg. It was bought out. It’s probably 10 acres. A trailer park had been there for decades and there were beautiful, mature, 100-year-old, and older, pine trees there and they’ve wiped them out,” Wunderlich said. “[The city] took them all down. Now it’s just sand. And through the weeks they were taking these pine trees down, stacking them up like corpses, and that got me sad.”
Wunderlich explained his frustrations to The Gabber, “[The City of St. Petersburg] allowed increased density here. They’ve allowed this to happen and so has the state – through the governor’s policy.”
According to the 2019 tree law (Chapter 2019-155), if a certified arborist deems a tree harmful, developers can remove it. Ever the affected botanist, Wunderlich pitched a proposal to the City of St. Petersburg.
Wunderlich told the city he’d plant 200 mature pine trees, mulch them and water them on the first day, but the city declined his offer. Determined to replace the lost trees, Wunderlich took his proposition to Pinellas County.
“I went to the county and they said, ‘We’d love to have them, Ray. There’s this piece of property that we’re using as a dump site, and we don’t want to use it completely as a dump site anymore,’” Wunderlich told The Gabber.
With the help of sponsors such as The Pruitt Foundation, The Ivy Group, and Ideas For Us, Wunderlich purchased 90% of the trees from McKeithen Growers in Myakka, and the remaining 10% from Sweetbay Nursery in Parrish, to plant in the two-acre Fort De Soto lot.
On Feb. 5, Fort De Soto gained 200 new trees. The trees came in two, four, and six foot heights.
“We’re going to mimic a natural succession in a forest. In a forest you have different trees of different ages and different heights. So these are going to be about two-feet high, four-feet high, and six-feet high,” Wunderlich said. “And most of them will be South Florida slash pines. And that’s the predominant pine tree that’s out there right now.”
Wunderlich hopes St. Petersburg’s new administration will take note of this restoration and move toward similar efforts.