Understanding the Value of Trees Within Our Communities

More and more communities are beginning to recognize the tangible benefits that trees provide in the urban environment. Healthy trees reduce air and noise pollution, provide energy-saving shade and cooling, furnish habitat for wildlife, enhance aesthetics and property values, and are an important contributor to community image, pride, and quality of life. Furthermore, many communities have realized that in order to protect and enhance their valuable tree resources, it is useful to view and manage their trees as a cohesive unit, the community or urban forest.

Tree ordinances are among the tools used by communities striving to attain a healthy, vigorous, and well-managed community forest. By themselves, however, tree ordinances cannot assure that the trees in and around our communities will be improved or even maintained. Tree ordinances simply provide the authorization and standards for management activities. If these activities are not integrated into an overall management strategy, problems are likely to arise. Without an overall strategy, management will be haphazard, inefficient, and ineffective, and the community forest will suffer.

Types of tree ordinances

Tree ordinances fit into one of three basic categories.

  • Street tree ordinances primarily cover the planting and removal of trees within public rights-of-way. They often contain provisions governing maintenance or removal of private trees which pose a hazard to the traveling public. Also included in this category are ordinances with tree planting requirements, such as those requiring tree planting in parking lots.
  • Tree protection ordinances are primarily directed at providing protection for native trees or trees with historical significance. They usually require that a permit be obtained before protected trees can be removed, encroached upon, or in some cases, pruned.
  • View ordinances are designed to help resolve conflicts between property owners that result when trees block views or sunlight.

Download the tree ordinance guidelines

Download this resource, Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances, to learn more about the tools and resources available to your community. The guidelines are based on a study of city and county tree ordinances in California (Bernhardt and Swiecki, 1991). This study reviewed 159 enacted city tree ordinances and nine enacted county ordinances in addition to a small number of proposed ordinances. This sample represented about 50% of the city tree ordinances and 80% of the county tree ordinances in effect in California at that time.

Project Funding

Funding for this project was provided by the USDA Forest Service through the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council and the International Society of Arboriculture.

Citation for This Project

Swiecki, T.J., and Bernhardt, E.A. 2001. Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances.