Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances

About this site

This site provides a variety of tools and resources for citizens and local governments interested in developing, revising, or evaluating local tree ordinances.  Rather than using a "model ordinance" approach, we describe how tree ordinance development can be integrated with an overall community tree management program.  The site includes annotated examples of effective tree ordinance provisions used throughout the country.  We also provide detailed descriptions of practical methods used to monitor community tree resources, tree management activities, and community attitudes.

This website was developed by grants from the U.S.D.A. Forest Service through the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council 1999 Challenge Cost-Share Grant Program, the International Society of Arboriculture, and ESRI, Inc., and in-kind contributions from:

Phytosphere Research
American Forests
Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA)
International City Management Association (ICMA)
National Association of State Foresters (NASF)
Alliance for Community Trees (ACT)
California ReLeaf
American Planning Association

This content of this site was produced by Elizabeth A. Bernhardt and Tedmund J. Swiecki of Phytosphere Research, Vacaville, CA. It is based on the publication Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances (Bernhardt and Swiecki 1991). The original report was prepared for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Urban Forestry Program.

The purpose of this site is to provide practical information for communities dealing with tree ordinances and other urban forest management issues. We also hope to provide a means for sharing successful ordinance provisions and urban forest evaluation and monitoring methods used in cities and counties throughout the country. Ongoing maintenance of this website and updating is provided by Phytosphere Research.

How to use this site

Whether a community is large or small, rural or urban, in a natural forest or in the desert, the basic process for developing a tree ordinance is the same. In each case, the community needs to determine what it has to work with and what it hopes to achieve. It must then formulate and execute plans to get what it wants, and finally, evaluate whether it is achieving its desired ends. The information in this web site is intended to guide you through this process.

The process we recommend for developing or revising a tree ordinance is outlined in Part 1. Following the process in Part 1 will help you determine whether you actually need to develop or revise a tree ordinance. It also describes the importance of setting definite goals in the development of a tree ordinance.  After reviewing the material in Part 1, you will be better able to effectively use the remaining sections of this site.

Part 2 is a guide to drafting an ordinance. It shows how to select specific ordinance provisions to meet the tree management goals set by your community. Please note that this section does not present a "model" ordinance. Instead, it is a listing of provisions from various tree ordinances that can be used to help achieve specific goals. Individual ordinance provisions are presented and explained, and example text is provided. Using the input of local citizens, your community can select provisions and develop language that will yield an ordinance that is uniquely suited to its own needs and desires.

How can you determine if your tree ordinance is working? Part 3 is a technical guide to methods which can be used to evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of ordinance provisions. Many of the evaluation methods described in this section may also be employed in the process of ordinance development described in Part 1.

This site is designed to be used by either citizen groups or local governments. However, development of a tree ordinance will be most effective when both groups work together. Some communities have found that forming a task force is an excellent way of ensuring cooperation between groups with diverse interests.

Download Adobe Acrobat PDF version of this site (version date 10/31/01 - 1690 KB)