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Bulletin #9: How to Write a Municipal Tree Ordinance

Ordinances reflect the values of a community, the values its residents believe are worth protecting to maintain their quality of life and an environment that is both safe and pleasant. A community’s trees, often called the “urban forest,” are very much the kind of community asset that deserves to be protected and managed for the common good.

A tree ordinance encourages beautification, air cooling and purification, noise abatement, property value enhancement and the other attributes of trees within a city. It also enables citizens to prevent and control the spread of diseases, to preserve trees in the path of development, and to avoid unnecessary costs associated with sewer clogging, sidewalk replacement and tree-related accidents. An ordinance may also give force and direction to professional tree care within the municipality’s work force and helps control unscrupulous or careless operators.

This is the free, digital version of Bulletin #9. Purchase the full bulletin for the complete content.

Ordinances vary in length and complexity, but the key to effectiveness is to write the ordinance simply, clearly and tailored to the needs of your community. In the end, a tree ordinance is just another tool for proper tree care. Like any tool, it needs to be of high quality, matched properly to the job, and used with skill and care.

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A tree ordinance and tree board or commission usually go hand in hand. Limited and staggered terms of office lend vitality and continuity to a board. Member diversity assures a blend of ideas and broader public support. A good mix might be one interested attorney, two green industry professionals and two interested residents or business leaders.

Suggested Sections for a Tree Ordinance

Although no two tree ordinances will be exactly alike, there are some basic elements that will help assure that the document is workable and effective. These elements are called sections, and they are presented here with examples and principles that illustrate why each one is necessary. Here are the first 2 of the 16 recommended sections.

I. Purpose

PRINCIPLE: An opening statement that clearly sets forth the purpose of the ordinance will help avoid ambiguity in interpretation. This initial section is usually capitalized and in bold print.

Example: It is the purpose of this ordinance to promote and protect the public health, safety, and general welfare by providing for the regulation of the planting, maintenance, and removal of trees, shrubs, and other plants within the city of ________.

This is the free, digital version of Bulletin #9. Purchase the full bulletin for the complete content.

II. Authority & Power

PRINCIPLE: Someone within city government must have the clearly designated authority to administer the provisions of the ordinance. This section defines, designates, or creates a department, board, commission, or person responsible for the planting, care and protection of the city’s trees.

Example: There is hereby created and established a City Tree Board for the City of ________, which shall consist of five members, citizens and residents of this city, who shall be appointed by the mayor with the approval of the city council. Members of the board shall serve without compensation.

HOME RULE AUTHORITY: In order to avoid conflicts with state laws governing trees, a statement transferring regulations to the city may be necessary. State, county and city laws will explain this process. If needed, the statement should be added as a section.

More Information

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Tree City USA is an Arbor Day Foundation program in cooperation with:

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