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Tree Ordinance Central

2. Ordinance components related to public tree protection

In addition to the common components, most effective tree ordinances that specifically address trees on public property often include the following components:

  • Public Tree Management and Protection
  • Tree Board Establishment
  • Community Forestry Programs and Plans

Public Tree Management and Protection

Many tree ordinances include provisions establishing the community’s right to plant, maintain, and remove trees on public property.  This includes protection for public trees that exist in rights of way, greenways, parks, school yards or other public land areas and provide for penalties for damaging, killing, or removing these trees.

A requirement may also be included that trees on private property that threaten the health, safety and welfare of the public must be removed by the property owner, and if not removed, the city may have them removed and charge the cost of removal to the property owner.

Tree Board Establishment

Tree Boards are usually composed of a mix of private citizens and public employees whose task it is to support efforts to conserve and manage the community’s public trees.  This group is usually appointed by elected officials and can provide the following benefits:

  • Provide a link between the local government and private citizens and businesses
  • Provide advice and recommendations to local government staff and elected officials on community forest management issues
  • Receive donations for community tree programs such as memorial tree planting programs
  • Solicit and consolidate support for local government and arborist initiatives and community forest policies, programs and plans
  • Establish their own bylaws and operating procedures not described in the code.

Tree Board Framework

Most ordinances contain just a few basic provisions that establish the framework for the operation of a tree board.  These include:

  • Tree board name
  • Number and type of voting members and terms of office
  • Number and type of ex-officio members
  • Duties and responsibilities

The group serving as the tree board may already exist in the form of an existing committee, board, or commission.  There may be an environmental committee or other group that takes on the role of the tree board.  If this is the case, the group serving as the tree board can be identified in the tree ordinance, or a statement included that the community may choose an existing committee, board or commission to serve as the tree board.  If this is done, the establishment section of the tree ordinance generally omits provisions setting forth the number and type of voting and ex-officio members and other establishment requirements.

Tree Board members

Tree boards consist of both voting members and ex-officio members.  The number of voting members may depend on how members are chosen.  Recommend structures include:

  • Have 1 representative for each city council or county commission member or district, neighborhood planning unit, or other geographical unit within the city
  • Include at least 1 citizen-at-large
  • Make recommendations to the mayor on appointees
  • Include individuals representing specific roles, groups, interests or expertise, such as an arborist, landscape contractor, tree service owner, business owner, downtown business or development authority, builders association, utility company, garden club, computer expert, marketing or fundraising expert, teachers, youth and other individuals that can make positive contributions to tree board programs.

Note: One alternative is to have the Board comprised entirely of local citizens with the above identified individuals serving as nonvoting technical advisors.

  • Invite a representative from the environmental club at the local high school to participate in the tree board, either as a voting member or ex-officio member
  • Include persons who have demonstrated the interest and have the time and energy to attend meetings and participate in tree board programs
  • Identify others with a strong interest in community trees and add additional citizen-at-large members, or invite these persons to sit in on meetings and volunteer their time for tree board programs and activities; consider these individuals as potential future voting members.

Tree Board Duties and Responsibilities

The primary duties of tree board members often identified in tree ordinances include:

  • Hold a minimum number of meetings annually (1 per month, 1 per quarter, or other similar schedule)
  • Keep a record of meetings and proceedings (written meeting minutes distributed to members, local government staff and officials)
  • Adopt bylaws establishing detailed operating procedures, officers, committees and responsibilities
  • Provide advice and recommendations to local government staff and officials on community forest management
  • Provide advice and recommendations to local government staff and officials on a new or revised tree ordinance
  • Develop a community forest management plan
  • Provide tree care education and promote trees in the community
  • Conduct an annual Arbor Day celebration

In some communities, the tree board is also given the responsibility for administering the tree ordinance, reviewing site and tree plans, and making recommendations on tree removal permits and plan approvals.  This is not done often, as it may politicize the tree board. This task would require at least one tree board member have sufficient knowledge and experience in tree care, site plan review and development code application.  Ideally, these responsibilities should be given only to a certified arborist or forester, or someone with similar credentials, education, and experience.

Tree board establishment provisions also usually include a statement that no one may interfere with the tree board members in the conduct of their duties and as they carry out their normal responsibilities. 

Community Forestry Programs and Plans

Part of the basic framework of a community’s forest management program is the development of a community forest management plan and annual work plans.  In public tree ordinances in both small and large communities, the requirement for such a plan is often described. The responsibility for the development and updating of these plans is given to the tree board in many tree ordinances, but also may be given to the community arborist or forester. These plans include the development of a written plan for the care, preservation, pruning, planting, replanting, removal or disposition of trees in parks, rights of way and in other public areas and to update annually this plan.

NEXT:  Components of Ordinances for Privately-Owned Trees


Understanding Tree Ordinances

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