Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances


Step A. Assess the tree resource.

An assessment of tree resources provides the basic information necessary for making management decisions. It also provides a baseline against which change can be measured. Ideally, this assessment should include all tree resources within the planning area of the municipality. However, in communities that are just starting to consider municipal tree management, an incremental approach may be more practical. In this case, the assessment may be focused on a certain portion of the urban forest, such as street trees or trees in a particular geographic area.

Tree resource assessments are based on various inventory methods, most of which require some type of survey. Complete tree inventories of all public trees are relatively common, and play a central role in many tree management programs. However, for the purposes of setting goals and initiating a management strategy, information from a representative sample of the urban forest will often suffice.

Information that may be useful for management planning includes:

Inventories vary in complexity depending on the size of the community and the nature of the data collected. They can be made by city staff, consultants, or trained volunteers. In one small community, an inventory of street trees was conducted as an Eagle Scout project. However, it is important to ensure that the data collected is valid and reliable, since this information provides a basis for decisions made in later steps in the process. Several simple sampling and evaluation techniques applicable to urban forestry are described in the Evaluation pages.

Step B. Review tree management practices.

An important part of understanding the status of the urban forest is knowing how it has been managed. This requires information on both past and current management methods and actions, such as: The specific types of information involved will vary by jurisdiction, depending on the level of past and current tree management. Municipal records are the most reliable source of this information. However, records on maintenance or ordinance enforcement may not exist in some cases, and the information may have to be obtained by interviewing local government staff involved with these activities.

The point of this step is to identify all of the activities that affect trees in the community, especially those that are under municipal control of one form or other. For instance, various ordinances and planning regulations seemingly unrelated to the tree program may impinge on tree resources and their impact must be taken into account. Before trying to change community forest management, we need to consider both current and historical management practices and identify all of the players involved.