Municipalities now have the option to adopt a shade tree preservation plan written by and for local staff, volunteers, and interested residents. A shade tree preservation plan describes a municipal shade tree program and can extend the jurisdiction of the tree warden beyond the core duties now specified in the law. Outlined in the 2020 amendments of the Vermont Tree Warden Statutes, these plans are new in Vermont and have no precise precedent, although some municipalities may adapt their existing tree ordinances or policies to incorporate required and optional elements of shade tree preservation plans.
Why create a shade tree preservation plan?
The Vermont Tree Warden Statutes, first passed in 1904 and updated in 1969 and 2020, reflect the vision of the legislature that trees in public places provide a public good valued differently than trees in forests, parks, and on private lands. Trees on roadsides, in town centers, on village greens, and around public buildings provide shade, beauty, wildlife habitat, gathering spots, and local landmarks. Mature public trees are irreplaceable, both logistically and emotionally.
Municipalities with written and accepted shade tree preservation plans provide clarity, timeliness, and vision to the people and policies that govern stewardship of public shade trees. The Plan, as approved by both the municipal tree warden and the governing body of the municipality (selectboard or city council) brings to light the standards by which tree planting, maintenance, and removal will be met, outlines financial commitments that might be required of the municipality, and specifies which municipal committees or boards also possess roles and responsibilities in shade tree stewardship. Perhaps most impactful is the ability of a shade tree preservation plan to designate trees other than those planted by the municipality as municipal shade trees, whether on municipally-owned land or in municipal right-of-ways. For many towns, this designation highlights the importance of certain trees or zones of trees that define the character of its public outdoor spaces.
Municipalities without a written and accepted shade tree preservation plan will still manage all trees in public ways and places. Furthermore, all trees planted by the municipality in public ways and places are still shade trees that are under the jurisdiction of the tree warden and governed by the Vermont Tree Warden Statutes. However, the tree warden, selectboard, and public at large may lack clarity about tree planting and tree maintenance goals and standards, particularly when prominent public trees are damaged or must be removed. Creating a shade tree preservation plan allows the municipality to specify its intent regarding public shade tree care, ensure that the tree warden’s expertise are understood and utilized correctly, and provide the public with the opportunity to envision and plan for healthy tree canopy that benefits all people in the municipality.
For more information on the amended Tree Warden Statutes and Shade Tree Preservation Plans, visit the Vermont League of Cities and Town's Tree Law webpage.
VT UCF is currently working with 10 municipalities to draft shade tree preservation plans: Charlotte, East Montpelier, Hartford, Johnson, Middlebury, Monkton, Mount Holly, Shrewbury, Saint Albans, and West Windsor. Examples of plans will be available in the spring of 2022.
For specific questions on these plans, contact Joanne Garton at email@example.com.
Shade Tree Preservation Plans
In accordance with statute 24 V.S.A. § 2502, if a community would like to expand the role of the tree warden, (beyond caring for municipally-planted and designated shade trees) a Shade Tree Preservation Plan may be adopted. The plan must include:
- Description of any program for the planting of new trees and shrubs;
- Provide for the maintenance of shade trees through feeding, pruning, and protection from noxious insect and disease pests;
- Determine the apportionment of costs for tree warden services provided to other municipal corporations;
- Determine whether tree maintenance or removal on specific municipal property shall require the approval of another municipal officer or legislative body; and
- Determine the process, not inconsistent with this chapter, for the removal of:
(A) diseased, dying, or dead shade trees; and
(B) any shade trees that create a hazard to public safety, impact a disease or insect control program, or must be removed to comply with State or federal law or permitting requirements.
Additionally, plans may include:
- Map locations or zones within the municipality where all trees in whole or in part within a public way or place shall be designated as shade trees; and
- Designate as a shade tree any tree in whole or in part within a public way, provided that the tree warden and legislative body of the municipality find that the tree is critical to the cultural, historical, or aesthetic character of the municipality.