21st Century Ordinance Builder for Tree Preservation in Land Development: Entry-Level Components

This tool helps Illinois residents form the foundation of a 21st century ordinance for tree preservation in land development.

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Use this tool to draft important tree protections in your community for a strong urban forest.

Trees are a useful and important part of the infrastructure in your community’s long-term development. Like other infrastructure, such as roads and buildings, trees require proper planning and maintenance. Unlike other critical infrastructure however, healthy, properly planted and cared for trees actually accrue value over time, and the benefits they provide increase exponentially as they mature. Older trees, especially in forested areas, provide multiple public benefits from improved air quality, sequestering of carbon, offsetting of carbon emissions, removal of air pollutants, reduction of heat islands, critical wildlife habitat, water retention, and flood management. Trees can help improve the physical and mental health in communities. Plus, trees can provide many benefits for your community’s economic development, as summarized in the article “The Benefits of Trees for Livable and Sustainable Communities” by Jessica B. Turner-Skoff (July 8, 2019). Research shows that trees can:

  • provide a high return on investment.
  • support tourism.
  • reduce energy use and bills.
  • increase home prices and rental rates.
  • reduce the rate of aging of road and pavement surfaces.
  • influence shoppers to visit a shopping area.
  • improve mental and physical health of citizens.
  • decrease crime and improve social capital.

As communities expand and develop, it’s important to maximize your community’s resources for sustainable and long-term growth. Implementing tree protections into a development code is one way to ensure that future generations will enjoy the many benefits of trees, while balancing the benefits of development.

This guide contains examples of, and recommendations for, different key components related to trees and their protections, as well as for other green infrastructure commonly found in zoning or development ordinances. These recommendations differ from standard Tree Protection Ordinances that protect your community’s trees 24/7, 365 days a year. In its most basic form, tree protections in development or landscape code:

  1. are triggered by a building permit or other mechanism, such as a concept plan, implying new construction;
  2. protect existing trees from damage and unnecessary removal;
  3. delegate who has authority to enforce tree regulations and how; and
  4. stipulate the ways developers can minimize damage to trees through penalties and incentives.

Topics covered in this tool address many common situations; however, every context and situation is different, and communities using these guidelines must tailor them to their individual situations to be effective. It is important to understand that because the cited examples are drawn from a number of different communities and sources, they vary widely in their complexity, format, reliance on cross-references and provisions not included here, and use of terms, tenses and concepts. Due to those variances, careful construction of an ordinance is critical to ensure consistency of terminology and a cohesive final result. Support for the creation or updates to a tree ordinance is offered by the Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI), free of charge, to communities located in Will, McHenry, DuPage, Cook, Lake, Kane, and Kendall Counties.

Always consult legal counsel when making updates to your community’s municipal code.


Funding was provided by The Morton Arboretum and the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service through direction of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Urban and Community Forestry Program.

Content was derived and developed using the following resources:

Chicago Region Trees Initiative ordinance templates.

Green Infrastructure Center. 2021. Planner’s Forest Toolkit: A Guide for South Carolina’s Towns, Cities and Counties. South Carolina Forestry Commission, Urban and Community Forestry Program.

International Society of Arboriculture, Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances. 2001.

Miller, R.W., Hauer, R., and Werner, L. 2015. Urban Forestry Planning and Managing Urban Greenspaces, Third Edition. Long Grove,, IL: Waveland Press.

Swiecki, T.J. and E.A. Bernhardt., E.A. 2001. Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances [PDF file]. Retrieved from,

University of Florida. 2005. Landscape Design.

CRTI would like to thank the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the CRTI Trees and Green Infrastructure Work Group and Attorney Michael Marrs at Klein, Thorpe, and Jenkins Ltd. for thoughtful input and contributions to this project.

The Morton Arboretum is an equal opportunity provider.

Using the navigation, you will find components of a tree preservation ordinance, for use in development situations, with a common format.

These components can be selected based on what your community needs from your ordinance, and your governmental entity’s goals and objectives. Components are designed to be modular, and can be mixed, matched, and organized as appropriate for the situation.

Example of component formatting:

Component definition: what the component covers, in short.

Importance: why it is important to incorporate the component into an ordinance.

Notes: additional information needed.


Levels for suggested use:

Components fall on a spectrum, depending on your community’s capacity. Choose one that fits the community’s needs, but keep in mind what steps you could take to move to the next suggested use.

  • CRTI’s suggested minimum use of a component.

  • CRTI’s recommended use that is achievable by most communities interested in investing in their urban forest, and a step up from the minimum.

  • CRTI’s top usage that will place communities in the region’s upper echelon of tree preservation in development regulations.

As you begin to build out an ordinance, start by defining your community’s current progress in relation to tree preservation. Does your governmental entity already have an ordinance and wants to add to it? Or is this the first tree-related development ordinance? What stakeholders do you need to engage to build an effective and usable ordinance? What structure should you build internally to enforce the ordinance?

Work closely with other departments and agencies in your community and initiate wide involvement in the process to mitigate issues in the future. CRTI recommends that tree regulations are easily understood and accessible. Tree regulations may fit into an existing code for building permit acquisition or be a section on their own. Your community and developers may benefit from giving a manual, packet, checklist, or other resources that summarize the requirements in plain language to interpret what developers need to do to comply with the regulations.

Enforcement is vital to the success of tree preservation codes and may require your community to make budgetary changes in order to enforce the code in a meaningful way. Work closely with other departments and stakeholders to ensure that the ordinance not only fits your community’s capacity but also allows for a pathway for expanded efforts and personnel to enforce the ordinance.

Communities adding tree preservation language to their development ordinance for the first time should consider adopting or amending a comprehensive plan to establish your community’s goals and to provide a clear direction for your ordinance. Comprehensive plans, while not binding, create a strong foundation on which to base regulatory changes when they include your community’s conservation goals and resource inventory. An urban forest management plan should be a part of your community’s comprehensive plan, and should include multiple departments in your community, and set the tone for future development in your community.

Communities creating their first ordinance should consider including each of the entry-level components in their ordinance at the CRTI recommended level. As needed, communities can augment their regulations by adopting an aspirational version, or drop down to a basic version if needed. To build on this entry-level ordinance, advanced components such as incorporating tree credits or cash bonds, can be incorporated into your community’s development or zoning code.

Entry-level components form the core of the ordinance.

These components should be included for a 21st century tree preservation ordinance to be effective in development. Within each component, there are basic, recommended, and aspirational regulations, meaning your governmental entity can develop an ordinance to work within your current capacity, while providing clear steps to improve the  ordinance for the future.

1. Purpose of Ordinance

2. Statement of Value

3. Definitions

4. Applicability and Scope

5. Interaction with Other Ordinances and Regulations

6. Process and Enforcement

7. Permits

8. Tree Survey,  Landscape Plan, and  Tree Preservation Plan

9. Conditions for Permit Issuance

10. Protection of Trees and Soil During Construction and Disturbance

11. Relocation or Replacement

12. Planting and Site Preparation Specifications

13. Tree Bank

14. Penalties

15. Appeals

16. Species Lists

17. Exceptions

18. Right to Inspect

19. Severability

State the reason for your community’s ordinance.

Component definition: Includes a brief description of the ordinance, why it is necessary and what public purposes it serves. Note that the purpose statement may include other objectives alongside tree preservation codes.

Importance: Sets forth a purpose that allows for a clear delineation of what the ordinance does and why, allowing its reader to understand its intent.

Notes: A rationale for the ordinance is helpful to ensuring it is defensible. Without reasonable justification, the ordinance may be more likely to be challenged. However, conclusory statements about the benefits of trees may need support from extrinsic sources of information (e.g., research studies, statistical data) for courts to defer to legislative findings. The ordinance can recite that type of information in the preamble. Examples of tree benefits may be found on The Morton Arboretum’s website. If applicable, include details about your community’s comprehensive plan that may guide the intent behind tree protections.

Levels for suggested use:

  • Same as Recommended.

  • State the intent of the ordinance and the scope (land uses it applies to, types of trees, etc.). Note that depending on whether tree regulations are integrated in the landscape standard section or in a section specific to trees only, you may include more descriptions in the purpose statement beyond tree regulations.


    The purpose of this Ordinance is to ensure environmentally sensitive site planning which furthers the preservation of mature trees and natural areas; to protect trees during construction; to facilitate site design and construction which contribute to the long-term viability of existing trees; and to control the removal of trees when necessary.

    [CRTI Bronze template]

  • State the intent and scope of the ordinance and include a call to design around trees to create a seamless indoor/outdoor relationship. Note that depending on whether tree regulations are integrated in the landscape standard section or in a section specific to trees only, you may include additional descriptions in the purpose statement beyond tree regulations.


    Intent: It is the intent of this chapter to promote increases in the quality of trees and tree care in the village and to promote increases in tree populations in the village whenever practicable.

    It also is the intent of this chapter to preserve trees on both public and private property and, in the event that tree removal is necessary, to ensure that appropriate replacement trees are planted. It also is the intent of this chapter to help provide for and sustain buffers between neighboring properties, to preserve historic streetscapes, to minimize the visual and environmental impacts of paved surfaces and buildings, and to ensure landscaping in conjunction with new development and redevelopment in a manner that preserves indigenous vegetation. It also is the intent of this chapter to balance the property rights of individual property owners with the overall health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the village and the village itself.

    [Lake Zurich, IL]

Explain why you need trees for a better community.

Component definition: Clearly state the value and service of the urban forest as infrastructure with benefits to the public such as shade, flood reduction, mental and physical health, and social benefits. Describe the importance and function of trees in providing crucial healthy environments as well as other amenities in communities.

Importance: By including a statement of value, the ordinance acknowledges the importance of trees, soils, and other associated vegetation as an asset to your community. This can be a critical component to the legal defensibility of the ordinance. By describing the benefits of urban trees, you justify the importance of tree ordinances in your community.

Notes: Because there are many stakeholders who use or are impacted by your governmental entity’s development code, it’s possible that you may want to include a diverse list of benefits that trees provide economically, aesthetically, and environmentally.

Levels for suggested use:

  • Designate trees as an important part of community infrastructure.


    [This ordinance] recognizes that trees are an integral part of the infrastructure of the Government Entity and as such should be preserved, protected, and cared for as other critical Government Entity infrastructure.

    [CRTI Bronze Ordinance Template]