Applicability and Exemptions

With the results of the assessments you’ve completed and the community forest issues, vision and goals you’ve identified, you’ll have the information you need to determine your tree ordinance’s applicability and exemptions.

Ideally, if everyone conserved, planted, and maintained trees to the level desired by the community, a tree ordinance would be simple and perhaps not even necessary.  But in the real world, trees are neglected, damaged, and removed unnecessarily.  This can lead to tree canopy loss and tree decline beyond what the community is willing to accept.

With the definition of your community forest issues, vision and goals you should be able to answer the following questions and decide on which trees and properties you will regulate, and which you will exempt from a portion or all of the tree ordinance.

  • Where is the area of greatest need for tree conservation and management in your community?
  • Where is the greatest amount of tree loss in the community?
  • What level of tree loss you are willing to allow?
  • To what degree is the community willing to conserve and protect trees?
  • Where can you make the greatest impact on maintaining and increasing your tree canopy cover?
  • What trees does the community value the most?


Most ordinances begin their applicability section by stating that the tree ordinance applies to all real property.  Throughout the ordinance, further clarification of applicability, and exemptions, are often included.

Beyond this initial statement of applicability to all real property, define the applicability of your tree ordinance by considering your issues and goals.  If the issues you need to address involve public and private property, then the applicability should reflect this.

If the primary issue you want to address is tree loss related to development, then your ordinance should be applicable when the development process is initiated on private property lots and developments through development permits.

If the primary issue you want to address is the loss of large, mature trees and tree canopy in general from already developed property, then you may want to include regulations that require a permit for tree removal from residential, commercial, or all properties—wherever the loss seem to be most significant.

You may also want to include the establishment of a tree ordinance, if you do not already have one, who will be responsible for educating the public on the value and care of trees.


With the assessment results and identified issues in mind, you may want to exempt properties on which little tree loss occurs, or where quality tree management is taking place and proving effective (such as developed, single-family residential properties).

Exemptions to tree ordinance requirements may also be appropriate for trees, activities, properties, and conditions that are obviously not under the control of the tree owner, or are not consistent with the permitted use of the property.

For example, when a tree is determined to be dead or has been irreparably damaged by insects, diseases, or a storm, these trees need to be removed immediately and the community would not want to delay the removal by the owner.

Activities by public or semi-public agencies and utility providers are often exempt, although these groups can be required or strongly encouraged to conduct tree care operations according to standards.  There are a number of other exemptions commonly included in Georgia’s tree ordinances.

Standard exemptions usually include:

  • Grandfathered projects–any project for which a land disturbance permit has already been issued as of the date of adoption of the ordinance
  • Horticultural operations such as plant or tree nurseries, botanical gardens, and tree orchards in active commercial production
  • Removal of dead and disease or insect infested trees
  • Trees that present a danger or hazard to the health, safety and welfare of the public (may require a permit or notification post-removal)
  • Tree removal during a period of an emergency, such as a tornado, ice storm, flood or other act of nature (may require a waiver by the administrator)
  • Timber harvesting that is part of ongoing forest management in agricultural districts

In addition to the standard exemptions, communities may also exempt the following from compliance with the tree ordinance:

  • Activities performed by federal, state, county, municipal or other governmental agency during the course of their daily work, except that best management practices for tree care shall be incorporated into the activities
  • Single-family residential developments
  • Residential lots of record
  • Commercial building sites in the downtown district


Once you have a first, rough draft of your tree ordinance, or even before you begin the process of writing your first draft, you can develop an applicability and exemptions chart that clearly defines what trees, properties, and activities will be regulated by your ordinance, and which will not.  This chart can also be developed for existing tree ordinances to help determine where your current ordinance needs clarification on its applicability and exemptions.  Here’s a generic example:

applicability and exemptions chart

Click on the links below to see examples of applicability and exemptions charts in tree ordinances from a Georgia city and county.