MONCKS CORNER — Protecting trees will be one of Berkeley County Council's top priorities next year.

County officials say they need an ordinance to prevent developers from clear-cutting trees for subdivisions and replacing them with smaller trees. Officials can point to several instances where developers cut down live oaks and pines and put up 2-inch diameter trees.

Councilman Jack Schurlknight will head a task force that will begin crafting an ordinance in January. Officials say the fast-growing county might be the only jurisdiction left in the Lowcountry without a tree ordinance.

"We're going to protect the rural integrity of Berkeley County as much as possible," Schurlknight said. "We want Berkeley County to have character. We want our subdivisions to have character."

Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Tyndall said the ordinance will require developers to take a little extra time to determine how they can incorporate some of the existing trees.

"The goal is for a certain amount of trees per acre," Tyndall said. "Little by little, we're losing large tracts of trees."

The county requires developments to leave 15 to 50 feet of trees for a buffer along the property line, depending on the type of development, but it doesn't address the rest of the property.

"You can have 100-year-old live oaks on your property right now, cut them down and we can't do anything to make you preserve them or replace them," Tyndall said.

The task force will take ideas from other jurisdictions' ordinances to decide on a county ordinance. Tyndall said members hope to make a presentation to the Planning Commission by March.