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What is a Tree Warden?
A tree warden is the designated individual in each Vermont community responsible for making determinations about the trees on public property such as those found on town greens and within the public right-of-way. State law in Vermont, as in all New England states, requires the legislative body of the municipality to appoint a tree warden from among qualified voters in town. The tree warden's duties and responsibilities are officially outlined in the Vermont Tree Warden Statutes. While many tree wardens are, by trade, trained arborists, foresters, or natural resources professionals and take on the role of tree warden as a volunteer, many others are already municipal employees within public works departments, parks departments, or roads crews.
Vermont's picturesque town greens and tree-lined streets are often the result of deliberate planning, planting, and care. Duties of the tree warden as outlined in the Tree Warden Statutes encompass protection, planting, care, and maintenance of existing public trees in addition to making decisions about tree removals. Many tree wardens expand upon these responsibilities to include tree assessments and inventories, sitting on the municipal tree committee or board as an ad hoc member, or helping to develop municipal bylaws and plans to ensure the long-term maintenance and management of the public tree population.
The position of tree warden is a unique legal responsibility, protecting and celebrating a natural resource. While tree wardens may not work directly with one another, the collective action they take ensure a unified commitment throughout Vermont to make our state a happy home for trees on public property.
Who is my Tree Warden?
In October 2019, the VT UCF Program compiled a current list of tree wardens and town clerk phone numbers. To contact your town tree warden, call your town clerk's office for information.
In some cases, a municipality's tree warden position is vacant, in which case the Selectboard or City Council acts as the tree warden. If you are interested in taking on the role of tree warden in your community, contact your town clerk.
How can my municipality's tree warden help me?
Each municipality manages trees on public land, which includes town-owned parks, buildings, and properties i.e. cemeteries; this varies by municipality, as well as the public right-of-way. Within the public right-of-way, while the adjoining landowner owns the land, the town has the authority to maintain and remove the trees - and all other public infrastructure like sidewalks, fire hydrants, street lights, and utilities - within that same land area. According to the Tree Warden Statutes, along public ways and places in the residential areas of a municipality, the tree warden has the sole authority to make a determination regarding the removal of a tree. If a landowner has a concern regarding the health of a public tree or wishes to have a tree on public property removed for any reason, they need to first contact their tree warden. If the tree is determined to not be a hazard and does not pose an immediate safety risk, the tree warden is required to hold a public hearing regarding its removal if it is in the "residential" part of town. Be aware that "residential" is not defined, nor are the terms "public ways and places" or "shade and ornamental trees".
Tree Care and Planting
If you notice a need for tree care such as pruning, mulching or pest control, and/or an opportunity to plant tree(s), contact your tree warden. They can help assess the need and how the work might fit within the municipalities tree care management plan.
In many cases, the tree warden is the person most familiar with the tree population in your town, thus possessing a wealth of knowledge. Keep your eyes peeled in your local bulletin for tree warden updates or events; many Vermont tree wardens are very engaged, so take advantage of the services they offer.
History of Vermont Tree Wardens
The history of tree wardens in Vermont is intrinsically linked to the history of tree wardens throughout New England. Massachusetts passed the first Tree Warden Statue in 1899, mandating the appointment of a tree warden in each community throughout the state. Other New England states followed shortly after, with Vermont mandating the role in the legislature in 1904.
Tree Wardens marked a turning point in the post-settlement philosophy regarding trees. Early European settlers cleared vast portions of the countryside and farmland developed alongside communities, changing the landscape from forests to fields. While a few tree societies sprouted between the 1600's and the 1800's, it wasn't until after the Civil War that the need for someone to "speak for the trees" was recognized. In the midst of an industrial boom, Americans were starting to see that city-living would only be tolerable if it were to be accompanied by greenery and outdoor spaces. Cities and villages began to plan parks and plant trees along roadsides. This paired with the increased attention to public safety and a municipality's responsibility to manage its infrastructure set the stage for the development of the role of the tree warden across New England.
Tree warden responsibilities today are similar to what they were at the turn of the century: to care for, control, and make hazard determinations regarding public trees. While the ultimate goal for tree wardens may not have changed much in the last hundred some years, the world we live in certainly has. Where the first tree wardens stood to protect trees from harmful pruning and unnecessary cutting, tree wardens today wage a different battle. From damaging road salt to encroaching power lines, tree wardens now manage trees in new ways.
Tree Warden Profiles