Vermont's picturesque town greens and tree-lined streets are not accidental. These green spaces are often the result of deliberate planning, planting, and care through a town’s tree warden. While the duties of the Tree Warden may vary widely among communities, he/she is responsible for shade trees on public property, such as those found in town greens, schools, and within public street rights-of-way. Urban trees are becoming less common due to death from old age, improper care, or other stressors from the built environment and poor municipal planning. The role of the Tree Warden is more important today than ever in Vermont’s history. The presence or absence of a municipal Tree Warden can often be noticed by how aesthetically pleasing a town’s landscape is.
Overview of a Tree Warden's Role
Provided by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns
The selectboard shall appoint a tree warden from among the legally qualified voters of the town. 24 V.S.A. § 871. Shade and ornamental trees within the limits of public rights of way are under the control of the tree warden. The tree warden may plan and implement a town shade tree preservation program for the purpose of shading and beautifying public ways and places by planting new trees and shrubs; by maintaining the health, appearance, and safety of existing trees through feeding, pruning and protecting them from noxious insect pests and diseases; and by removing diseased, dying or dead trees which create a hazard to public safety or threaten the effectiveness of disease or insect control programs. 24 V.S.A. § 2502. A municipality may appropriate a sum of money to be expended by the tree warden or, if one is not appointed, by the selectboard. 24 V.S.A. § 2503.
The tree warden may not remove trees when the owner or lessee of abutting real estate annually controls all insect pests or tree diseases on trees within the limits of a highway or place abutting such real estate. The tree warden shall enforce all laws relating to public shade trees and may prescribe rules and regulations for the planting, protection, care and removal of public shade trees pursuant to the ordinance adoption procedure in 24 V.S.A. Chapter 59. The tree warden may enter into agreements with the owners of land adjoining or facing public ways and places for the purpose of encouraging and carrying out a community-wide shade tree planting and preservation program. Only the tree warden, deputy tree warden or someone with his or her permission may cut a public shade tree. Healthy public shade trees in the residential part of a residential neighborhood shall not be felled without a public hearing by the tree warden. The tree warden may request recommendations for control of suspected infestations from the Commissioner of Agriculture, may implement recommended control measures, and may enter private land to implement these control measures. 24 V.S.A. §§ 2504–2511.
Being Active - Tips from fellow Tree Wardens
Determine Which Trees Are in Your Jurisdiction
- Learn more about any easement agreements your town has with utilities.
- Determine “right-of-way” (ROW) boundaries.
Let People Know You Are Interested and Active
- Contact your Utility Representative. The following link provides a map of Vermont electric utility service territories: VT Electric Utilities Service Map.
- Contact your AOT District Administrator if a state highway runs through your town. AOT District Manager List.
- Periodically update the Selectboard on your activities.
- Write up a brief synopsis of yearly activities for the Town Report like the number of trees removed, planted, pruned, and inspected.
- Develop a positive relationship with the Road Commissioner and Road Crew(s):
- Provide them with information on proper pruning methods.
- Offer them a copy of the roadside vegetation manual.
- Ask to be engaged if trees need to be removed, if they notice potentially dangerous trees, or if there is going to be construction that may impact trees.
- Offer your assistance in answering questions about tree health and safety.
- Ask for their input regarding tree planting/maintenance.
- Work with the Park & Recreation Director, Groundskeepers and Cemetery Commissioner(s). Provide them with information regarding weed trimmer & lawn mower damage, and mulching. Seek their input regarding design and maintenance prior to planting.
- Attend Tree Board/Tree Group/Conservation Commission Meetings.
- Ask for assistance.
Start Working Toward Tree City USA Status
Tree Warden's Resources
- Roads and Trees: A comprehensive manual for Tree Wardens and road crews.
Holding a Public Hearing: The Tree Warden statutes state that a public hearing must be held if a public shade or ornamental tree in the residential part of town is to be removed and is not infested with an insect or disease and is not a hazard. We've outlined the steps on how to hold a public tree removal hearing. Public Hearing
- Vermont Electric Utilities: It is important for Tree Wardens to build a working relationship with their local electric utility company. The following link provides a map of Vermont electric utility service territories: VT Electric Utilities Service Map
- Tree Ordinances/Policies: A tree ordinance is a formal long-term policy for dealing properly and effectively with tree care and public policy. The following is a link to resources to assist in developing an ordinance or policy, and examples of communities in Vermont that have enacted a tree ordinance or policy: Public Policy
- Tree Removal Permit: When working with other town officials, it is helpful to have an official permit that you issue for a tree(s) removals. The following link provides an example tree removal permit for use: Permit for Public Tree Removal
- Tree Removal Letter: Communication with the public is key for a Tree Warden. The following link provides an example of a tree removal letter. Example Tree Removal Letter