Maintaining Your Tree Ordinance

Is your tree ordinance working and producing the outcomes you desire?

As has been mentioned on other pages on this website, tree ordinances often need to be fine tuned after they are implemented.  This ongoing maintenance of a tree ordinance, with one or many small or large revisions, will help you better meet your vision and goals.

There are many reasons why a tree ordinance should be regularly maintained, including to:

  • Clarify confusing language.
  • Remedy unintended outcomes.
  • Provide greater flexibility in compliance.
  • Incorporate new information gained from field experience.
  • Incorporate new techniques, standards and best practices.
  • Respond to new issues and community concerns.

In addition to maintaining the tree ordinance, if you have a tree ordinance supplement or administrative guidelines, you should regularly maintain these also.  Regularly review the following to determine if changes are necessary.

  • Tree species list.
  • Standards and best management practices for tree care operations.
  • Tree protection specifications.
  • Construction details for planting, staking and protection.
  • Application forms and checklists.

Don’t forget to also review on a regular basis the processes you use for site inspections, tree removal permit application processing, and tree plan review and approval to see if they are working as well as you and the applicants would like.


There are a couple of basic tools you can use to assess the outcomes of your tree ordinance.  These include ongoing inspections, development assessments and measurements of tree canopy cover.

ONGOING INSPECTIONS.  Ongoing inspections are essential to assess continued compliance on properties developed in accordance with the tree ordinance.  Maintain a copy of all approved tree plans that will remain in effect after the certificate of occupancy is issued.  Make sure that tree plans are accurately annotated with any approved changes prior to the issuance of a certificate of occupancy.

Develop a form to record the site and tree conditions you find on a site as you visit it randomly, or routinely, after the certificate of occupancy has been issued.

If you have follow-up inspections required by your tree ordinance, use those inspections to record the conditions found on the site.  Build a database of the common problems seen on completed sites.  Don’t forget to include what is working and has been successful, too.

DEVELOPMENT ASSESSMENTS.  If you don’t have follow-up inspections required by your tree ordinance, then set aside time on a weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual basis for site and tree inspections on developed sites.  You can use a single visit as both a compliance inspection, if your tree ordinance provisions apply in perpetuity, and to gather general information on tree species performance, maintenance practices, and how tree ordinance regulations are working.

Record information on soil conditions, maintenance practices, tree health, and species performance.  Also, include any unintended outcomes that result from ordinance compliance.

Take surface temperature measurements during the assessment using an infrared thermometer; include measurements of car hoods, paved areas, grass, and mulch beds with and without tree shade; photograph the location of each measurement.

Take photographs of the conditions and trees on the site.  Prepare a presentation for your tree board, planning commission, or city council on the results of the assessment.  Focus on areas of improvement, while also presenting the best outcomes seen during the assessment.

Keep a list of the areas of improvement you have observed during ongoing site inspections and assessments.  These will be useful when developing proposed revisions.

TREE CANOPY MEASUREMENTS.  If you have set a tree canopy cover goal for your community, or a no net loss policy for your tree canopy, you will want to periodically measure your tree canopy cover to determine if your tree ordinance is effective in moving you toward your goal or maintaining no net loss.

If you do not have any information on the amount of tree canopy cover you currently have, conduct a tree canopy cover measurement as soon as possible; then conduct additional measurements on a regular basis—such as every 5 years—to assess the effectiveness of your ordinance in maintaining, or increasing, your cover.  More information on measuring your tree canopy can be found on the Assessing Current Conditions page.