Many of our historic town centers are famous for their tree-lined streets, parks and town forests. These features influence the character and feeling of a community as well as providing environmental, social, and economic benefits. For example, trees can prevent soil erosion and control flooding, improve air and water quality as well as enhance the aesthetics of our neighborhoods. Tree ordinances are one tool a community can use to ensure a well-managed approach to maintaining healthy community trees and forests. These ordinances define the management and care for public and/or privately owned trees in a municipality.
Tree ordinances provide the authorization and standards for tree management activities within a town or city. Local tree management activities are conducted for the general welfare or “public good” within the legal framework of a tree ordinance.
When developing a tree ordinance, there are generally three types of ordinances to consider– street tree, tree protection, and view ordinances.
Street Tree Ordinances
Street tree ordinances regulate the management of trees within public rights of way. They usually govern the maintenance or removal of private trees that pose a hazard to the traveling public- either driving or walking. Often these ordinances include minimum clearance requirements for trees (public or private) that line public sidewalks and streets. Also included in this category are tree planting provisions that can ensure that there will be trees planted in new developments. These provisions can specify minimum tree densities (e.g., numbers of trees per street mile) or canopy standards (e.g., amount of canopy cover or shading to be provided within a set period of years). This type of ordinance may also have parking lot shading provisions – requiring a certain number of trees be planted per parking space installed in a new parking lot.
Tree Protection Ordinances
Tree protection ordinances provide protection for native trees or trees with historical significance in the community. They usually require a permit be obtained before trees protected within the ordinance can be removed, encroached upon, or in some cases, pruned. These ordinances can also provide authority to condemn private trees affected by insects or a disease that spread easily. For example, the city of Fort Collins, Colorado gives the city forester authority to condemn trees infected by the Spruce Ips. beetle to contain the beetle’s damage and preserve the remaining spruce trees in the city.
View ordinances are designed to help resolve conflicts between property owners that result when trees block views or sunlight. Some cities or towns that have desirable vistas have adopted view ordinances. These laws protect property owners from having their view obstructed by growing trees.
The successful implementation of a local tree ordinance often depends on designating an individual such as a Town Forester, Arborist or Tree Warden to enforce, educate and guide the public. For enforcement purposes, a community has the authority, and can consider adding, a provision placing a lien on a property when an owner refuses to comply with a tree ordinance.
Once a community enacts a tree ordinance, it may be able to qualify as a “Tree City USA”. Enacting a tree ordinance is a minimum qualification. A city must also establish a tree board or department, a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita, and an Arbor Day observance and proclamation. In Vermont, at least nine towns that have enacted tree ordinances are official Tree Cities – Brattleboro, Burlington, Enosburg Falls, Grand Isle, Hartford, Montpelier, North Hero, Rutland, and St. Johnsbury. For a tree ordinance to meet the Tree City standard, it must provide clear guidance for planting, maintaining and removing trees from streets, parks and other public places.
Tree ordinances in Vermont
Basic ordinance that states that the Town has the authority for the regulation of the planting, maintenance, and removal of trees, shrubs, and other plants within the public rights-of-wayand public places within the Town
Establishes a City Tree Board that studies, investigates, counsels and develops and/or updates annually, and administers a written plan for the care, preservation, pruning, planting, replanting, removal or disposition of trees and shrubs in parks, along streets and in other public areas
- The ordinance also states that Barre has an official list of tree species that are allowed to be planted on public streets
Shade and ornamental trees within the limits of public ways and places shall be under the control of the town tree warden and/or deputy tree warden If the tree warden determines that a tree is a danger to public safety and welfare because of defect, decay or lack of support; or a tree constitutes a threat to other trees because it harbors or breeds noxious insects or disease pests the warden can remove the tree
Related Case Study
Status of Tree Ordinances in South Carolina, by the South Carolina Forestry Commission and the The Strom Thurmond Institute at University of South Carolina, 2003 contains a survey of tree ordinances in South Carolina.