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Urban & Community Tree Ordinances

Tree ordinances are meant to help build a healthy and sustainable community forest. They define how to manage and care for public and/or privately owned trees and demonstrate commitment to the community forest.

One of the four standards to become a Tree City USA is that a community has a tree ordinance. A Tree Ordinance may be developed or revised to address such matters as establishing municipal authority over public trees, setting standards for tree planting, maintenance and management, outlining enforcement, fees and fines, and defining nuisance conditions on private trees. Even though each community has its own conservation needs and reasons for writing or revising a tree ordinance, a natural tendency is to quickly adopt another community's ordinance as a model with the idea of fixing it later. Jump-starting the tree ordinance development process by cloning an existing ordinance, however, is seldom reflective of each community's individual needs. In some situations, this has even lengthened the tree ordinance development process.

A tree ordinance can go by many different names including "Street Tree Ordinance", "Tree Protection Ordinance", "Tree Preservation Ordinance", "Landscape Ordinance", or "Beautification Ordinance" depending on the level of policy being set. A Tree Preservation Ordinance may be included in or be separate from the Tree Ordinance. The focus of such an ordinance is the regulation of the removal or establishment of trees by establishing definitions, procedures, penalties, and appeals necessary for enforcement.

There are many resources/references available for any community to create its own ordinance. However, the larger the community and the more complex the issues, the more important it is to have an ordinance created/reviewed by an experienced and knowledgeable consultant.

Ordinances will be more effective if developed as a part of a comprehensive community forest management strategy and developed with support from your community. Guidelines for developing a tree ordinance for your community:

  1. State goals clearly
  2. Designate responsibility
  3. Set performance standards
  4. Design flexibility
  5. Specify enforcement methods

Review any related by-laws before and after ordinance update or creation, (may include landscape, streets, parks, etc) to determine whether they have any tree elements included or whether they might conflict with any aspects of a tree ordinance.

Among other things, a "thorough" ordinance should address:

  • tree board establishment
  • tree master plan
  • hazard trees
  • boundary trees
  • vandalism and fines
  • line of sight
  • tree preservation/conservation (can be a separate ordinance)
  • professional standards to be adhered to on private land
  • development (and tree planting in newly developed areas)
  • contract and nursery specifications
  • removal and pruning specifications
  • approved species for planting by individuals or the community
  • planting specifications including staking, mulching, watering, training pruning
This page updated: Thursday, March 2, 2017 10:48

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