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Time is short for Brazilian pepper on Sanibel

By Staff | May 11, 2012

BRAD SMITH, SCCF A cluster of non-native Brazilian pepper trees on Sanibel that remains to be eradicated as the city's program enters its final mandatory phase.

Sanibel’s Brazilian pepper tree eradication program is entering the final phase of its endeavor to rid the islands of the invasive exotic pest plant from all areas of the city.

At last week’s City Council meeting, the panel approved an ordinance amending the eradication zone map to move Zone 6 from the “voluntary” phase to the “mandatory” phase.

During a one- to two-year voluntary phase owners could take advantage of incentives to remove the Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) on their private land. The city would reimburse them 20 percent of the cost of removal as well as offer free curbside pickup of unbundled pepper debris.

Once the zone enters the mandatory phase, owners no longer are eligible for the incentives and, after 90 days, Natural Resources staff make a roadside inspection tour. Any properties with pepper remaining is subject to code enforcement actions until successfully eradicated.

“At this point the whole island is 80 percent free of Brazilian pepper,” said Dr. Rob Loflin, Natural Resources director. “There were about 4,000 acres of pepper on the island at the beginning, out of some 11,000 acres (of land area). Of course, there has to be continuous maintenance every year because seeds are brought in by birds and such, but we are finding fewer seedlings so we are winning the battle.”

Closeup of pepper foliage.

Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service began a collective effort in 1992 to eradicate the pepper from all conservation lands, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the island. Those lands, 20 years later, are free of the invasive plant and are maintained by a rotating program of mowing, prescribed burns and herbicide applications to keep them that way.

To keep the high cost of eradication to a minimum for the city, Council implemented the voluntary/mandatory program and designated six zones.

Council initiated its program in 1998 for private developed and undeveloped residential and commercial properties. Zone 1 – from Causeway/Lindgren Road east to Lighthouse Beach Park – which entered mandatory phase in 1998, was completed in July 2000. Since then, Zones 2 and 3 have been completed. Zone 4 – Dixie Beach-Casa Ybel Road west to Tarpon Bay Road – is 95 percent in compliance.

“We’re getting the most productive habitat in those areas,” said Loflin. “The only way you can do it is without the exotics.”

Zone 5 – Tarpon Bay Road west to Rabbit Road – has been in mandatory phase since July 2010 with 75 percent compliance so far.

The city worked with Veolia, its vegetative waste hauler, and scheduled pick-ups in April 2011 and February 2012 for the active zones.

Finally, Zone 6 – Rabbit Road west to Jamaica Drive – has been under the voluntary phase since July 2010 with the city issuing 17 reimbursements to owners. Council’s latest ordinance (12-005) amendment pushes Zone 6 into mandatory phase effective in 90 days.

“I’m happy its the final zone,” said Sanibel City Manager Judie Zimomra. “It takes maintenance, but we’re definitely continuing to create a great diversity of wildlife in the exotic-free areas.”

During the 90-day period property owners with more than one acre of land are permitted to request additional time for compliance. Once Ordinance 12-005 goes into effect in August, Natural Resources will conduct a final roadside survey of the entire zone and proceed with code enforcement actions as necessary.

“Residents have shown tremendous community support,” said Loflin. “Most folks have taken advantage of the incentive program.”

Code enforcement actions include warning letters, notice of violation or notice of hearing.

“Going through the code process has been extremely rare,” said Loflin. “I would say in virtually all cases we’ve gone through code for absentee owners who don’t even live on the island. We have always worked with any owner with financial or other issues.”