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Tree Ordinance Central

Frequently-Asked Questions

Do you have a question about tree ordinances? You are not the only one! Below are some frequently asked questions submitted by citizens, tree care managers, and allied professionals.

If you don’t see your question here, contact us to submit your question.  We will regularly post updated FAQ’s along with answers from experienced professionals that regularly work with tree regulations here in Georgia.



How does a community become a Tree City USA?

To be eligible for Tree City USA status, a community must meet four criteria:

  • Establish a tree board.
  • Develop a tree ordinance.
  • Spend $2 per capita on tree care.
  • Hold an annual Arbor Day Celebration.

For more information on the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program, and to see if your community is currently a Tree City, visit the Arbor Day Foundation website (


The $2 per capita expenditure required to become a Tree City USA seems like too much for our small city.  What if we can’t spend that much?

City trees provide many benefits—clean air, clean water, shade and beauty to name a few—but they also require an investment to remain healthy and sustainable. By providing support at or above the $2 per capita minimum, a community demonstrates its commitment to grow and tend these valuable public assets. Budgets and expenditures require planning and accountability, which are fundamental to the long-term health of the tree canopy and the Tree City USA program.

To meet this standard each year, the community must document at least $2 per capita toward the planting, care and removal of city trees—and the planning efforts to make those things happen. At first this may seem like an impossible barrier to some communities. However, a little investigation usually reveals that more than this amount is already being spent on tree care. If not, this may signal serious neglect that will cost far more in the long run. In such a case, working toward Tree City USA recognition can be used to reexamine the community's budget priorities and redirect funds to properly care for its tree resources before it is too late.


What kind of Arbor Day celebration is required to become a Tree City USA?

An effective program for community trees would not be complete without an annual Arbor Day ceremony. Citizens join together to celebrate the benefits of community trees and the work accomplished to plant and maintain them. By passing and reciting an official Arbor Day proclamation, public officials demonstrate their support for the community tree program and complete the requirements for becoming a Tree City USA.

This is the least challenging—and probably most enjoyable—standard to meet. An Arbor Day celebration can be simple and brief or an all-day or all-week observation. It can include a tree planting event, tree care activities or an award ceremony that honors leading tree planters. For children, Arbor Day may be their only exposure to the green world or a springboard to discussions about the complex issue of environmental quality.

The benefits of Arbor Day go far beyond the shade and beauty of new trees for the next generation. Arbor Day is a golden opportunity for publicity and to educate homeowners about proper tree care. Utility companies can join in to promote planting small trees beneath power lines or being careful when digging. Fire prevention messaging can also be worked into the event, as can conservation education about soil erosion or the need to protect wildlife habitat.


How long should it take to develop a tree ordinance?

The time it takes to develop a tree ordinance depends on the type of ordinance, whether the effort is a redesign of a current ordinance, whether you are starting from scratch and the current climate of acceptability of the notion of tree regulations.  Simple “Tree City USA” qualified tree ordinances can take as little as three months to develop and pass. Other more involved and comprehensive tree ordinances, starting from scratch can take more than two years.


How much tree canopy should my community have?

Most larger, urbanized communities strive for a tree canopy cover of at least 40 percent.  However, many Georgia communities have considerably more cover and amounts of 50 to 60 percent are common.  It is recommended that communities measure their tree canopy cover, and then set an agreed upon minimum canopy percent goal. Many communities choose to set a different goal for different zoning classifications with an overall community canopy goal target.  Your community would likely benefit from setting a tree canopy cover goal based on current data, community values, and public input.

For example, in 2017, Athens-Clarke County had a tree canopy cover of 61%.  The city of Augusta in 2018 had a tree canopy cover of 59.8%.  The town of Winterville in 2016 had a tree canopy cover of 57.8%.  It is important to remember that these are averages for the entire community not for each type of land use.  Residential areas usually have a higher maintainable coverage percentage than high density business districts.


What level of staffing does it require to manage and enforce a tree ordinance?

Staffing requirements for community tree ordinance administration generally depends upon the type of ordinance. A comprehensive ordinance would usually require the services of a full-time certified arborist and staff to conduct plan reviews and enforcement inspections.  Simple tree ordinances are often administered by current, knowledgeable community development or other in-house staff.


How common is it for a tree ordinance in Georgia to establish a tree bank or tree fund for planting or payments in lieu of meeting tree density requirements?

Tree banks and tree funds are established by ordinance in more than 50 Georgia communities to provide alternatives to strict compliance with tree density and tree conservation requirements. A tree bank allows for the planting of trees off-site to satisfy tree density requirements.

 A tree fund allows for a payment in lieu of planting or conserving trees to meet tree density requirements.  In many of these communities, the term “tree bank” actually refers to a tree fund, and not to the practice of planting trees off-site. Both tree banking and tree funds can provide significant relief and flexibility to a property developer in meeting tree density requirements.  Most communities limit the amount of tree density requirements that can be satisfied through these methods in an effort to maintain some tree density on a site.

Tree funds may also be a significant funding source for purchasing, planting and maintaining trees on public property.  In some communities’ tree fund monies are also utilized for education, Arbor Day Programs or the cost of hiring staff or city arborist.

What is a Certified Arborist?

A certified arborist has a broad base of knowledge about tree and woody plant care, pesticides, planting safety and related technical matters. To become a certified arborist, one must have minimum of three years of full-time experience in arboriculture or a combination of education and practical arboricultural experience, and also pass a difficult and lengthy examination administered by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).


What is a specimen tree?

 A specimen tree is a tree that qualifies for preservation due to its size, type, condition, location, or historical significance. The tree must be in fair or better condition and meet minimum diameter sizes. Typically, large hardwood trees such as oaks, hickories, yellow poplars, and sweetgums must be at least 24” DBH. Large softwood trees such as pines must be at least 30” DBH. Understory trees such as dogwoods and redbuds must be 4” DBH.


What are public trees as opposed to private trees?

The phrases “public trees” and “private trees” are shorthand for trees that are owned by a geographic governmental unit (city or county, for example) and trees that are owned by private property owners.  Public trees include trees

  • in public street rights-of-way (along the sides and in the medians of roads),
  • in public parks and recreation areas, and
  • on government-owned property (city hall or the local courthouse, for example).

Private trees are owned by private property owners and originate within their private property boundary lines, even if the canopy extends over public land.


Will a tree ordinance restrict utility and power companies from pruning trees away from overhead lines?

Utility and power line companies must adhere to standards when pruning private or public trees. In a difficult situation, usually a company will coordinate with the local community forester or county arborist to determine the best way to proceed.  Utility pruning is the subject of an ANSI Standard booklet, available from (see our Resources & Guides section for a list of more ANSI Standard booklets).

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Understanding Tree Ordinances

Components of Tree Ordinances

Getting Started:  The Twelve Steps to Writing Effective Tree Ordinances


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