Tree ordinances provide the legal framework for successful urban forest management by enabling and authorizing management activities. However, methods for managing the urban forest ecosystem are continually evolving, and the input of trained professionals to the management process is critical. Therefore, we believe that ordinances should facilitate rather than prescribe management. Successful tree ordinances follow this guiding principle.
If the role of a tree ordinance is to facilitate resource management, the tree ordinance must be part of a larger community forest management strategy. Most of the shortcomings attributed to tree ordinances can usually be traced to the lack of a clearly thought-out management strategy. Poor planning leads to poor ordinances, and even the best-written ordinance is unlikely to succeed in the absence of an overall urban forest management strategy. We have found that few existing tree ordinances have been developed as part of a comprehensive management strategy.
We have generally followed Miller's (1988) model of the management planning process. More recently, the descriptive term adaptive management has been applied to this process. Miller (1988) presents the management planning process in terms of three basic questions:
In practice, answering the first two questions is often an iterative process. Communities may have ideas about what they want before they fully assess what they have. However, an assessment of existing tree resources can help point out needs that might not be obvious, and will help the community to establish appropriate goals.
Since the urban forest resource and the external factors that affect it are continually changing, developing a management strategy must be an ongoing process. Asking a fourth question helps to bring the process full circle:
We can define a number of specific steps that address each of these four basic questions. These steps have been defined in similar ways by various authors (Lobel 1983, Miller 1988, Jennings 1978, McPherson and Johnson 1988, World Forestry Center and Morgan 1989). For the purposes of our discussion, we recognize seven distinct steps which are discussed below.
Working through these steps need not be overly complicated or arduous. The
entire process is driven by the specific resources and goals of the individual
community. By following the process outlined below, a small community with very
modest tree management goals can develop a simple ordinance that addresses its
limited goals. On the other hand, communities seeking to develop a comprehensive
tree management program or expand their existing programs can do so following
the same process. Ordinances developed through this process will be uniquely
suited to the needs of each community.