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21st Century Ordinance Builder for Tree Protection Entry-Level Components

This tool created by the CRTI Trees and Green Infrastructure Work Group helps Illinois residents form the foundation of a 21st century ordinance for tree protection.

Content Detail

Use this tool to draft vitally important tree protection ordinances for a community forestry program.

If your community strives to attain a healthy, vigorous, and well-managed community forest then a tree protection ordinance is essential. In essence, a tree protection ordinance is a local governing document that establishes standards for a wide range of issues regarding a community’s trees. Importantly, tree protection ordinances serve as a framework for community cooperation and expectation. Trees are an important piece of community infrastructure, providing significant benefits to the environment and quality of life, and tree protection ordinances are necessary to preserve and protect these trees and the benefits they provide.

At a minimum, tree protection ordinances dictate:

  1. Who has authority over trees on private and public property,
  2. The standards for the care of those trees and,
  3. Protection for trees from damage and removal.

As they grow in scope, ordinances may provide protection for trees from things like construction and unnecessary removal, on both public and private property. There are several types of ordinances which can regulate the preservation, protection and planting of trees. This ordinance builder is designed to help you build or improve your tree protection ordinance for properties where some form of development has already taken place. Unlike a development or landscaping ordinance that is triggered by a building permit or other action, these ordinances would not regulate undeveloped sites, large scale site improvements or even potential tear downs. Tree protection ordinances are active at all times to protect trees.

An effective tree preservation ordinance is one that is based on an urban forest management plan (see the CRTI template here). However, many governmental entities do not have an urban forest management plan in place. We have provided a tiered ordinance structure that allows your governmental entity a starting point to become engaged and opportunities to move to a higher level of ordinance as your time, policies, and resources permit.

On the following pages, you will learn what components an entry-level ordinance needs to contain, what CRTI recommends for all ordinances, and how you can be an aspirational leader in the world of tree protection ordinances. A series of additional advanced ordinance recommendations that will help you build on an entry-level ordinance is also available.

Acknowledgements

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

Content derived from Miller, R.W. & Hauer, R. & Werner, L. (2015). Urban Forestry Planning and Managing Urban Greenspaces, Third Edition. Long Grove Longrove, IL: Waveland Press; Swiecki, T.J. and E.A. Bernhardt., E.A. 2001. Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://wwv.isa-arbor.com/education/onlineresources/treeordinanceguidelines, 2022.;, Bernhardt and Swiecki, (1991), ISA’s ‘Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances’ (2001), Phytosphere’s tree ordinance guidelines, CRTI ordinance templates, and input from the CRTI Trees and Green Infrastructure Work Group.

The Morton Arboretum is an equal opportunity provider.

Using the page navigation, you will find ‘components’ of a tree protection ordinance with a common format.

These components can be selected based on what you need from your ordinance, and what your governmental entity’s goals and objectives are. Components are designed to be modular, and can be mixed, matched, and organized as appropriate for your situation. These components represent themes that should or could be present in your ordinance. Your community can assemble the components however your local customs and practices direct. Some components may be combined into a single section of your code. Please note that this is a living document that is susceptible to being updated and revised from time to time as more examples are found, the law changes, and best practices evolve.

Examples are given from Illinois communities that are currently using these components in their ordinances. These examples may be copied directly or modified to fit your needs. You should always discuss changes to your ordinances with your legal counsel.

 

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.

Levels for suggested use:

Components fall on a spectrum, depending on your capacity. Choose one that fits your 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 upper echelon of tree protection ordinances in the region.

As you begin to build out your ordinance, begin by understanding where you are as a community. Does your governmental entity already have an ordinance and want to add to it? Or is this your first tree protection ordinance?

A community creating its first ordinance should consider including each of the entry-level components in its ordinance at the CRTI-recommended level. As needed, communities can augment their regulations by adopting an aspirational version, or drop down to a minimum version if needed. To build on this entry-level ordinance, advanced components can be added. If you don’t know where to start, consider looking at CRTI’s Bronze, Silver, and Gold ordinance templates for an example of a full ordinance at each level. These templates correspond to the ordinance components below.

A community interested in updating or enhancing its current ordinance should consider where on the gradient of each component’s usage it currently falls, and consider moving the ordinance closer to an aspirational level or adding missing entry-level components. You may also consider adding advanced components as appropriate to your governmental entity goals.

Entry-level components form the core of your ordinance.

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

Purpose

Statement of Value

Definitions

Applicability / Scope of Ordinance

Delegation of Authority

Enforcement

Tree Planting and Maintenance Standards

Requirements for Contracted Tree Maintenance

Permits

Protection of Trees During Construction

Relocation or Replacement

Appeals

Penalties

Species Lists

Exceptions

Severability

Inventory and Management Plan

State the reason for your ordinance.

Component definition: Includes a brief description of the ordinance, and why it is necessary and what public purposes it serves.

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

Notes: A rationale for your ordinance is helpful to ensuring it is defensible. Without reasonable justification your 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 adopting your community’s tree regulations can recite that type of information in the preambles. Examples of tree benefits may be found on The Morton Arboretum’s website.

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.).

    Examples:

    This Section [/Chapter/Article] of the Code [intends] to preserve, protect and enhance critical infrastructure – the portion of the urban forest that is located on public land. The complete urban forest is comprised of trees across all land uses and ownership on public and private land. This Section [/Chapter/Article] will regulate public property trees but recognizes that trees on private property are part of the collective community resource. The purpose of this Section [/Chapter/Article] is to recognize the services and function that trees provide as a collective asset to the entire community and to state the goals of the Governmental Entity with respect to the protection, preservation, care and planting of trees on public lands.

    [CRTI Silver Ordinance Template]

     

    Purpose: To enhance the quality of life and the present and future health, safety, and welfare of all citizens, to [protect and] enhance property values, and to ensure proper planting and care of trees on public property, the City Council herein delegates the authority and responsibility for managing public trees, establishes practices governing the planting and care of trees on public property, and makes provision for the emergency removal of trees on private property under certain conditions.

    [Tree City USA sample Ordinance]

     

    Sec. 25-16. – Purpose and intent.

    1. Purpose. It is the purpose of this article 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.
    2. Intent. It is the intent of the city council that the terms of this article shall be construed so as to promote:
      1. The planting, maintenance, restoration and survival of desirable trees, shrubs and other plants within the city; and
      2. The protection of community residents from personal injury and property damage, and the protection of the city from property damage, caused or threatened by the improper planting, maintenance or removal of trees, shrubs or other plants located within the community.

    [Urbana, IL]

     

    1: PURPOSE AND INTENT:

    1. Purpose: It is the purpose of this article to promote and protect the public health, safety and general welfare by providing for the regulation of the planting, maintenance and removal of trees and shrubs within the Village.
    2. Intent: It is the intent of the Village Board that the terms of this article shall be construed so as to promote:
      1. The planting, maintenance, restoration and survival of desirable trees and shrubs within the Village; and
      2. The protection of community residents from personal injury and property damage, and the protection of the Village from property damage, caused or threatened by the improper planting, maintenance or removal of trees and shrubs located within the community.

    (1981 Code)

    [Oak Park, IL]

     

    13-1-1: Purpose; Findings:

    The purpose of this Chapter is to preserve, protect, replace and properly maintain trees within the Village and protect the public from trees which pose a threat or danger because

    1. Trees are an important public resource.
    2. Trees preserve and enhance the Village’s physical and aesthetic environment, especially its natural and unique atmosphere;
    3. Trees enhance the air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide, filter out air pollutants and providing oxygen;
    4. Trees reduce topsoil erosion by the holding effect of their roots;
    5. Trees reduce storm water runoff and replenish ground water supplies;
    6. Trees provide a buffer and screen against noise pollution;
    7. Trees reduce energy consumption by acting as a wind break and producing shade;
    8. Trees preserve and enhance nesting areas for birds and other wildlife which, in turn, assist in the control of insects;
    9. Trees protect and enhance property values;
    10. Trees protect and enhance the quality of life and the general welfare of the Village.

    [Lincolnshire, IL]

     

    9.702: STATEMENT OF PURPOSE:

    The primary objective of the village government is to provide the citizens of Mount Prospect a safe, prosperous, and healthy community in which to live and work. To consistently meet this objective requires the coordinated efforts of many individuals and municipal departments including those responsible for maintaining the infrastructure of the village. Components of this infrastructure include streets, sidewalks, sewers, buildings and trees. Healthy trees are unique in that they appreciate in value as they mature, unlike other components of the infrastructure that continually depreciate over time.

    Trees provide a wide range of benefits to the village. Healthy trees reduce air and noise pollution, slow stormwater runoff, contribute to energy conservation through shade and protection from the wind, and significantly increase property values. Trees need sufficient soil, water, and air to survive. Protecting existing natural resources and planning for the establishment and care of new trees will enhance the economic and environmental health of the village.

    The purpose of this article is to promote and protect public health and safety by providing for the proper establishment of new trees, the protection and maintenance of existing trees and the timely removal of hazardous or undesirable trees. (Ord. 5253, 5-21-2002)

    [Mount Prospect, IL]

  • Includes both public and private property.

    Examples:

    While allowing for reasonable improvement of land within the City, it is the stated public policy of the City to add to the Tree population within the City, where possible, and to maintain, to the greatest extent possible, existing Trees within the City. The planting of additional Trees and the preservation of existing Trees in the City is intended to accomplish, where possible, the following objectives:

    1. To preserve Trees as an important public resource enhancing the quality of life and the general welfare of the City and enhancing its unique character and physical, historical, and esthetic environment;
    2. To preserve the canopy and essential ecological character of those areas throughout the community that are heavily wooded;
    3. To enhance and preserve the air quality of the City through the filtering effect of Trees on air pollutants and replenishing the atmosphere with oxygen;
    4. To reduce noise within the City through the baffle and barrier effect of Trees on the spread of noise;
    5. To reduce topsoil erosion through the soil retention effect of Tree roots;
    6. To reduce energy consumption through the wind, break and shade effects of Trees when they are properly placed on a Lot;
    7. To provide habitat and food for birds and other wildlife, including the preservation and enhancement of nesting areas for birds and other wildlife, which in turn assist in the control of insects;
    8. To reduce storm water runoff and topsoil erosion and the costs associated therewith and replenish ground water supplies;
    9. To protect and increase values; and
    10. To enhance economic stability by attracting businesses and visitors.

    [Highland Park, IL]

     

    15-18-1 – POLICY

    It has been determined that trees provide the following enhancements to the public health, safety and welfare:

    • Enhance the scenic beauty of the City and its natural and unique environment.
    • Enhance air quality by reducing and filtering air pollutants.
    • Reduce topsoil erosion.
    • Reduce stormwater runoff and replenish ground water supplies.
    • Provide a buffer and screen against noise pollution.
    • Reduce energy consumption by acting as a wind barrier and providing shade.
    • Preserve and enhance nesting areas for birds and other forms of wildlife which assist in insect control.
    • Protect and enhance property values.
    • Protect and enhance the quality of life and general welfare of the City and its residents.

    Therefore, it is the policy of this Chapter to preserve, protect, replace and properly maintain trees on private property within the City while at the same time respecting the private property rights of Park Ridge landowners.

    [Park Ridge, IL]

Explain why you need trees for a better community.

Component definition: Clearly states the value and service of the urban forest as infrastructure. Describes the importance and function of trees in providing healthy environments and other amenities in communities.

Importance: By including a statement of value, you are acknowledging the importance of trees as an asset to your governmental entity. This can be a critical component to the legal defensibility of your ordinance. By describing the value of urban trees for quality of life and their function as infrastructure, you justify the importance of tree protection ordinances to urban forestry.

Notes: Trees are infrastructure in a community. Like other