Ordinances are the framework for community cooperation and expectation. Tree ordinances are necessary to preserve and protect Governmental Entity resources and infrastructure just as any other Governmental Entity resources, e.g. streets, parks, sewers, water and utilities. There are several types of ordinances which can regulate the preservation, protection and planting of trees. The ordinances accompanying this introduction are for properties where some form of development has already taken place. These ordinances would not regulate undeveloped sites, large scale site improvements or even potential tear downs.
An effective tree preservation ordinance is one that is based on an urban forest management plan (UFMP; see our template here). However, many Governmental Entities do not have an UFMP in place. We have provided a three tiered ordinance structure which allows your Governmental Entity a point to become engaged and opportunities to move to a higher level of ordinance as your time and resources permit.
The Bronze ordinance is the basic tree preservation ordinance and assumes the Governmental Entity does not have an urban forest management plan and does not regulate trees on private property. This ordinance sets the stage for community engagement to develop an UFMP and progression to the Silver tiered ordinance.
The Silver ordinance recognizes a Governmental Entity UFMP, based on the U.S. Forest Service and Davey Resource Group Sustainable Urban Forestry Guide as its foundation. By basing your ordinance on an UFMP, a Governmental Entity can update the UFMP as needed without the challenges of revising an ordinance. The UFMP should be reviewed annually.
The Gold ordinance includes the same criteria of the Silver ordinance but also provides for regulation of the urban forest on private property. Typically, 70% of the urban forest within a Governmental Entity is on private property. It is critical that proper care, preservation and planting of trees on private property be incentivized or regulated. The Governmental Entity has many examples of collective management. For instance, the stormwater ordinance regulates the flow of water across land uses and ownerships, or building permits and inspections are required for building changes or construction. The Gold level tree ordinance preserves and protects the community as a whole.
Foundation for the urban forest
The urban forest is a collective resource that we all rely on for physical and mental health, improved property values, air and water quality, stormwater reduction, wildlife habitat, and other services. Each community, county, park district, forest preserve and private property owner has invested significant financial and physical resources in development of the urban forest. The compensatory benefits these trees provide across the seven-county Chicago region is $51.2 million annually. If each community analyzed their portion of the forest through an inventory they would easily calculate a rough monetary value of their portion of this forest too. For instance, if a community has 10,000 publically owned trees and the average diameter of these trees is 15 inches a rough collective compensatory value of this forest is $180,000 annually. If these trees are cared for and they grow to an average diameter of 20 inches the collective value is increased to $262,000 annually. Trees are the only infrastructure that increases in value with age!
Each Governmental Entity or individual spends money installing trees yet far fewer dollars are spent to maintain trees. Larger trees provide larger benefits. These trees are a collective asset that deserve and require protection to reach their potential. This urban forest resource needs to be preserved, protected and managed skillfully in order for it to perform to its potential and for us to receive optimal benefits.
Our urban forest is critical infrastructure, just as roads, sewers, and other infrastructure. Knowledge and resources are needed but most importantly a plan of action is needed.