Purposes of Tree Ordinances

The purpose of any tree ordinance is to establish a framework for the conservation and management of trees on public or private property.

Your tree ordinance may have additional purposes that are unique to your community’s situation.  Write a succinct purpose statement for your ordinance, keeping in mind the following guidelines for what tree ordinances can do and cannot or should not do.


Tree ordinances are an effective community tree management tool because they can:

  • Conserve natural, forested areas for the benefit of the community and environment
  • Require a minimum amount of tree density on developed and undeveloped sites
  • Regulate the conservation and planting of trees during land development and where buildings and other structures will be built, expanded, or demolished
  • Regulate the removal and conservation of trees of special value to the community
  • Make immediate, visible changes to the landscape
  • Promote the utilization of trees for the many functions and benefits they provide
  • Require canopy over impervious (paved) surfaces such as streets and parking lots
  • Set standards for tree conservation, planting, maintenance and protection
  • Improve the quality and health of the tree population
  • Establish minimum distances between trees and infrastructure to reduce conflicts
  • Establish standards for utility line vegetation management including clearance pruning
  • Protect public health, safety and welfare by reducing the level of tree risk
  • Provide flexibility in achieving community tree management goals


Oftentimes in the development of a tree ordinance, you may be tempted to address issues in the tree ordinance that are not tree-related or that would be better addressed in other parts of the city code.  In the process of developing a tree ordinance, development team members often express frustration with current regulations on the size of parking lots, building setback widths, and limits on structure footprints, impervious surfaces, or land uses.  While the tree ordinance must take into account these current regulations and be developed within the framework they establish, changes to these regulations should be addressed outside of the tree ordinance development process.

Tree ordinances cannot (or should not):

  • Prevent development that is allowed by zoning regulations
  • Reduce the amount of impervious surface allowed
  • Save every tree
  • Require more trees on a site than will fit in the available growing space
  • Completely eliminate the need for pruning branches and removing trees around buildings or infrastructure
  • Stop utility line clearance pruning
  • Eliminate all risk posed by trees in the landscape
  • Take into account all conditions and situations on every site
  • Be successfully implemented without adequate staff, time and budget
  • Enforce itself!
Tree ordinances can regulate the placement of trees on public or private property and help to reduce conflicts between trees and utility lines, and trees and traffic.  This Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) is growing too large for the available space in this tree lawn and is in conflict with overhead utility lines, and higher-profile vehicles as well.