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Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS)

Step 3 - Adopt a Tree Ordinance/Landscape Ordinance

Reference Number: MTAS-1354
Reviewed Date: 03/20/2023

The next step is to develop a tree ordinance. The purpose of most ordinances is to protect and maintain existing trees while providing for new ones. Ordinances providing for the overall care of the urban forest vary greatly. The ordinance should provide for and facilitate adequate management of your urban forest. To do so, your ordinance should do three things: 1) provide authority to conduct forestry programs; 2) define responsibility - who is responsible for certain parts of the urban forest - particularly important in cases of street side or other easement areas; and 3) set forth minimum standards for management to provide for public safety, health, convenience, and general welfare.

To ensure the above, city tree ordinances generally include the following elements:

  • Purpose and intent;
  • Definitions;
  • Establishment of a tree board (may be a separate ordinance);
  • Clarification of title to and responsibility for trees on city property;
  • Designation of city forester or other official with responsibility and authority;
  • Planting requirements for trees on municipal property or easements;
  • Maintenance responsibilities and clarification of responsibilities of adjacent property owners in cases of street sides or other easements;
  • Removal requirements and specifications;
  • Condemnation of trees on private property;
  • Requirements of private arborists and landscape contractors (licensing, bonding, insurance);
  • Preservation or protection of heritage and historic trees and other vegetation;
  • Prohibition of interference with forestry officials; and
  • Violations, penalties and appeals.

A comprehensive tree ordinance addresses the following three key components: 1) tree protection; 2) landscape architecture standards; and 3) street tree requirements.