This page provides information about urban forestry, street tree, and tree protection programs for local governments in Washington State, including relevant statutes and examples of local programs and ordinances.
Urban forestry is the management of forest ecosystems in and around cities. State and local officials work with parks and recreation departments, land use planners, utilities, and citizen organizations to promote and manage urban forestry resources.
These ecosystems may be varied and complex, including parks and community forests, watersheds and critical areas, street trees and other trees on public lands or rights-of-way, and trees on private property.
Citizens receive a wide range of benefits from trees and urban forests, including recreational and cultural opportunities, energy conservation, protection from sun and heat, improved stormwater management, enhanced animal and plant biodiversity, increased property values, and more.
Many local governments have established goals to increase the amount of tree canopy coverage and restrict or regulate the removal of trees, especially large or significant trees.
- Ch. 76.15 RCW – Urban Forest Management
Encouraging Urban Forestry Education and Donations
The following statutes encourage local governments and utility companies to provide utility customers with landscaping information, including tree planting for energy conservation, and to request voluntary donations for urban forestry:
- RCW 35.92.390 – Municipal utilities
- RCW 35A.80.040 – Code cities
- RCW 54.16.400 – Public utility districts
- RCW 80.28.300 – Gas and electrical companies
Examples of Urban Forestry Plans and Programs
Below are selected examples of urban forestry plans and programs from Washington cities that seek to maintain or increase their existing tree canopy coverage and educate residents about the importance of trees.
- Bellingham Urban Forestry Management Plan (2022) – Details the city's process to develop the plan
- Hoquiam Tree City Award – Includes information about city's Tree City USA designation, urban forestry management plan, and urban forest advisory board
- King County Forestry Program
- Kirkland Trees — Includes information about the city's tree codes, urban forestry management plan (2013), and canopy assessments
- Lacey Urban Forest Management Plan (2021)
- Longview Urban Forestry Program – Includes links to the urban forest management plan and a tree benefits calculator
- Olympia Urban Forestry – Requires minimum number of "tree units" per acre; includes many resource links
- Renton Urban and Community Forestry – Includes the 2022-2032 Urban Forest Management Plan, tree inventory, regulations, tree owner's manual, and FAQs
- Sammamish Urban Forest Management Plan (2019)
- Seattle Trees for Seattle – Umbrella webpage for all of the city's urban forestry programs; includes regulations, tree removal, tree canopy, and tree topping
- Shoreline Trees – Addresses trees in critical areas, trees of significant size, trees in the public right-of-way, hazardous trees, and pruning on private property and 2022 updates to regulations.
- Spokane Urban Forestry – Offers information on tree permits, tree benefits, planting and care, and options to donate to the urban forestry program
- Tacoma Urban Forestry – Includes programs providing free or discounted trees to local residents to help city achieve its tree canopy coverage goals
- Vancouver Urban Forestry – Includes links to management plan, canopy reports, workplans, and annual reports. Establishes two permits programs: one for street trees and one for private trees
Examples of Tree Protection Ordinances
- Bainbridge Island Ordinance No. 2018-25 (2018) – Emergency interim ordinance prohibits removal of any "landmark tree" without public process. Definition of landmark tree varies by species and is established by tree diameter at breast height. Anyone seeking to remove a landmark tree must submit an application, followed by a public hearing. Approval can only be granted if certain conditions are met.
- Camas Ordinance No. 18-014 (2018) – Numerous updates to city’s urban tree program, including creating new city tree fund, requiring permits for street tree removal, amending fines for injuring or destroying trees and landscaping in parks, and addressing landscape plans and minimum tree density for new developments
- Covington Tree Preservation Ordinance – Plain-language description of city's tree ordinance; limits tree removal and allows for voluntary designation of "heritage trees" by private property owner or on public property
- Olympia Municipal Code Ch. 16.56 – Protects "landmark trees" based on factors such as historical associations, rare or unusual species, or exceptional aesthetic quality
- Redmond Tree Removal – Sets annual limit on number of healthy significant trees that may be removed from properties each year; includes tips, application form, and FAQs
- Seattle Tree Protection Code – Overview of city ordinance limiting the number and size of trees and other vegetation that may be removed from properties.
- Walla Walla Municipal Code Ch. 12.50 – Protects "heritage trees" based on factors such as historical associations, rare or unusual species, exceptional aesthetic quality, or large size
Examples of Street Tree Regulations
- Bellingham Municipal Code Ch. 13.40 – Offers guidance for street trees and other vegetation
- Burlington Municipal Code Ch. 12.20 – Provides general regulations for the planting, maintenance, and removal of trees in the public right-of-way and on city-owned property
- Edmonds Municipal Code Ch. 18.85
- Enumclaw Municipal Code Ch. 12.21
- Grandview Municipal Code Ch. 12.14
- Kent Municipal Code Ch. 6.10 – See the city's Approved Street Tree List (2015)
- Olympia Municipal Code Ch. 12.44
- Puyallup Municipal Code Ch. 11.28
- Redmond Zoning Code Sec. 21.32.090
- Seattle Department of Transportation Street Tree Permits – Information on permits for planting, pruning, or removing trees in the public right-of-way
- Tumwater Municipal Code Ch. 12.24
- Vancouver Municipal Code Sec. 20.925.060
Street Trees and Sidewalk Damage
- Mann Made Resources: Sidewalk and Roots: Mitigating the Conflict – An Overview - Presented at the 2011 Urban Forest Symposium at the University of Washington and posted with permission of author Gordon Mann
- Seattle DOT Client Assistance Memo 2208 Sidewalk Maintenance and Repair (revised 2017) - See section VI on managing street trees during sidewalk repair
Tree Trimming and Replacement for Utilities
- Benton County PUD Tree Program
- Chelan County PUD Tree Trimming
- Seattle City Light Vegetation Management
Examples of Leaf and Waste Wood Removal Programs
- Spokane Leaf Pickup - Includes map showing pickup progress
Below are some organizations and resources to help local governments manage and improve their urban forestry and street tree programs.
- American Forests: Tree Equity Scoring Tool — Calculates a score for tree equity in municipalities in urbanized areas nationwide. Scores are based on tree canopy, surface temperature, income, employment, race, age, and health factors.
- American Public Works Association: Urban Forestry Best Management Practices for Public Works Managers.
- Arbor Day Foundation – Sponsors Tree City USA program, which provides direction, technical assistance, public attention, and national recognition for urban and community forestry programs in American cities and towns.
- International Society of Arboriculture – Promotes the professional practice of arboriculture and fosters a greater worldwide awareness of the benefits of trees.
- Tree Ordinance Guidelines – Offers guidelines for writing street tree ordinances, tree protection ordinances, and view ordinances, based on a study of city and county ordinances in California.
- Society of Municipal Arborists – Professional association for municipal arborists and urban foresters.
- United States Forest Service: i-Tree – Free software suite that provides urban and rural forestry analysis and benefit assessment tools.
- University of Washington: Safe Streets – Offers research on the benefits of roadside vegetation.
- Washington Department of Natural Resources
- Financial Assistance for Wildfire Resilience and Forest Health — Assists local agencies with implementing forest health/wildfire mitigation treatments and helps landowners write management plans for privately owned forests.
- Urban and Community Forestry — Provides technical and educational assistance to local governments.
- Washington Invasive Species Council: Urban Forestry Pest Readiness Playbook – Offers tools to prepare communities for potential pest outbreaks through self-assessments and recommended actions.