The level of effectiveness of
tree ordinances can be influenced by many factors. Public knowledge,
perception and support can play a major factor in the effectiveness
of tree ordinances. Other influences are whether or not the ordinances
are adequately enforced, environmental limitations affecting tree
health/survival and financial resources. Since these factors will
vary from place to place, even similar ordinances can have different
results in different communities.
Although opinions can differ within cities, it is possible to objectively
assess the performance of a tree ordinance. Assessment requires
an evaluation of the ordinance and related regulations and evaluation
of the urban forest itself. Even though ordinances vary widely in
form, content and complexity, an effective tree ordinance should
meet the following criteria:
These are key features of the ordinances.
• Goals – should be clearly stated and provisions
should address the stated goals.
A clear statement of goals is essential and provides the basis
for interpreting the ordinance and evaluating its effectiveness.
• Responsibility – should be designated and proper
authority granted to commensurate with responsibility.
Responsibility is often laid upon the shoulders of one person,
but is sometimes split between two or more positions. In most
cases, the most effective management of urban forests is to have
a single person responsible for overseeing all tree-related activities.
This allows for better activities coordination and reduces conflict
between departments. However, responsibility may be split between
a tree commission, which sets policy and handles administrative
duties, and staff, which is responsible for operations and enforcement.
The tree program manager should be vested with the authority to
carry out all responsibilities. It should be clear in the tree
ordinance the link between responsibility and authority. However,
in some ordinances responsibility appears to exceed authority.
Urban forest management is likely to suffer when responsibilities
are ill-defined or the authority to act is not granted.
• Flexibility – should be designed into the ordinance.
While ordinances should set standards, it is important that they
allow for flexibility. If objective performance standards are
set, then the arborist or forester is more easily directed as
to how to implement the ordinance. This can reduce the need for
overly detailed implementation standards and allows for the flexibility
to make decisions on site-specific biological and physical factors.
Usually, ordinances will have a process for appealing decisions.
This allows for a degree of flexibility also in that it serves
as a checks-and-balance against the authority of the manager.
Unfortunately, appeals may also serve to undermine good urban
forest management if they routinely allow pressure to override
the decisions of the specialists.
• Enforcement methods – should be specified.
Enforcement is always an important aspect of any ordinance.
However, many tree ordinances lack enforcement elements because
nobody is specifically charged with this duty. In ordinances with
enforcement provisions, many types of penalties are employed.
Some of these include fines, forfeiture of performance bonds and
jail terms. Many jurisdictions opt to require specific replacement
plantings as penalties. Many of the penalties appear to be sufficient
but only if consistent enforcement is in place to deter violations.
• Basic performance standards – should be set.
A tree ordinance should indicate which practices and conditions
are acceptable and which are not. Besides stating what is regulated,
an ordinance should set basic standards for performance. For instance,
standards should be set to regulate canopy cover, amount of shade
provided, permits required for tree removal, etc. If basic standards
are not set, it is possible that all individual actions taken
will conform with the ordinance, but that the overall goals of
the ordinance are never achieved. Effective standards address
the urban forest as a whole rather than focusing on individual
These components reflect the background in which the ordinance
• Community support – should be garnered during
development of the ordinance.
Community support is vital to ordinance effectiveness and should
be considered a major factor in determining and implementing ordinances.
• Comprehensive management strategy – should be
developed and implemented.
Properly applied, an ordinance can help facilitate good management.
Improperly applied, ordinances can cause counterproductive practices,
provide disincentives for conservation and undermine the sustainability
of the urban forest. Although it is possible to structure an ordinance
using a patterned approach, such ordinances are unlikely to be
well integrated with a comprehensive urban forest management strategy.
Although meeting these criteria will not guarantee success, ordinances
lacking one or more of these elements will definitely be handicapped.