We recognize the importance of providing Vermont's volunteer tree wardens with the resources that will allow them to best fulfill their responsibilities. On this page you will find documents and information that will aid public tree management throughout the state. Tree wardens, if you think there's something missing or you need further clarity please contact us.
If you are an appointed Tree Warden and have specific questions about legal interpretation of the Tree Warden Statutes, we recommend that you contact the Vermont League of Cities and Town's Municipal Assistance Center.
Tree Warden Statutes
The Vermont tree warden statutes were last amended in1969; recognizing the need to modernize and clarify the language, amendments to the tree warden statutes have been submitted to the House Agriculture & Forestry Committee in 2018, 2019, and 2020 (but have yet to cross over out of committee). The Law of the Trees compiled by Paul Gilies provides greater comprehension of how trees and laws intersect in the state of Vermont. Click here for all Vermont statutes pertinent to the role of tree warden.
For what exactly is a tree warden responsible?
The Tree Warden Statutes specifically pertain to all "shade and ornamental trees" in the "public ways and places" and, regarding the process for tree removals, in the "residential part of a municipality". However, there are no further definitions of these terms provided in the statutes. Recognizing this lack of clarity, a number of VT municipalities have developed their own tree ordinance or policy to further define the purview and role of the tree warden. Visit our public policies page to view examples of these ordinances and a guide on ordinance and policy development.
Who owns trees within the public right-of-way?
The adjoining landowner typically owns the land underlying the road easement, however, the town has the authority to plant, maintain, and remove the trees in this area. As with street lights, sidewalks, fire hydrants, etc., shade and ornamental trees are considered part of the public infrastructure and, as such, are managed by the municipality within the public right-of-way.
Who can cut down trees in the public right-of-way?
The municipality has the sole authority to cut down public shade trees. Determinations about the removal or cutting of public shade trees can only be made by the tree warden or their deputy, or by a person having the written permission of a tree warden. If any person other than the tree warden or someone having express permission from the tree warden, cuts or removes a public shade tree, a $500 penalty may be issued for each tree, for the use of the municipality.
Are towns responsible for removing every tree in a town highway right-of-way that is a danger to private property?
According to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT), while the Vermont Tree Warden Statutes allocate sole municipal authority to cut down trees within the public right-of- way (24 V.S.A. § 2291(3), 19 V.S.A. § 904), this is a power that they may, not must, exercise. Nevertheless, VLCT and VT UCF both recommend that a known hazardous tree is in the public right-of-way, public safety should be a priority and that tree should be removed.
The tree warden has the responsibility of making determinations about the removal of public trees within the public ways and places of a municipality. Within the residential part of a municipality, a public tree shall not be removed without a public hearing convened by the tree warden, unless that tree has been determined by the tree warden to be a threat to public safety, or is infested or infected by a recognized tree pest.
Have towns had to go through litigation over tree removal?
Yes, though there are not many case examples in Vermont. In 2001, the town of Holland was taken to court by a landowner for failing to hold a hearing prior to cutting down a public shade tree.
How do I hold a Public Hearing?
The existing Vermont Tree Warden Statutes do not include specific provisions for holding a public hearing. For guidance, refer to the VT UCF document, Guidelines for Holding a Public Hearing.
Trees and Roads
This Trees and Roads document was compiled for a workshop with the Vermont Local Roads Program and includes many resources regarding roadside tree and vegetation management.
Trees and Utilities
Utilities, including power and telephone companies, also have rights within the public right-of-way. With permission from the Vermont Public Service Board, they may prune or cut trees that interfere with lines and poles along the roadside. 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.
Trees and Utilities: Cooperative Management Strategies for Success by Rutgers Cooperative Extension provides further insights into how utilities and trees can be managed together for the benefit of the community.
Tree Ordinances and Policies
A tree ordinance or policy is a municipal document, usually formally adopted, that defines local provisions and regulations for the care and management of the public tree population. A number of VT communities have chosen to establish their own tree ordinance or policy to build upon the Vermont Tree Warden Statutes, allowing them to expand upon tree warden responsibilities and locally define terms and phrases. Visit our public policy page to learn more and peruse adopted tree ordinances and policies statewide.
Tree Assessments and Inventories
You can't manage what you don't know you have. In order to establish any tree management or preservation program, an inventory should be conducted. Visit our public tree inventory page to learn about our state-supported tree inventory tool. Visit our ash tree inventory page if you are interested in learning how towns have prepared for the arrival of the emerald ash borer by conducting an ash inventory and developing a community preparedness plan. Contact VT UCF Technical Assistance Coordinator, Joanne Garton, if you'd like to discuss how to best plan and conduct a tree inventory.
Identifying and Managing Hazardous Trees
As tree warden, one of the most important responsibilities is that of public safety. Trees, while wonderful in many ways, can also harm people or property if they fail. It is important to distinguish between trees that are healthy and those that pose a threat as well as trees in a hazardous location. Once hazard trees have been identified, it is important to manage these trees to eliminate the hazard posed. It is also vital to communicate with homeowners that may be impacted by tree removal. "How to Recognize Hazardous Defects in Trees" and "Urban Tree Risk Management" identifies best practices regarding hazardous trees.