Don’t Do This To Your Trees

GM writes a lot about street trees and what you can do to help them stay alive, and, moreover, what you shouldn’t do, like prune them yourself. You might be led to conclude that if a tree is on your property, you can do whatever you like. But that is simply not true. The city has strict regulations about how you can prune or take down a tree on your property. And a resident just flagrantly violated those rules and will likely face a hefty fine as a result.

The rules are fairly complicated, but roughly speaking: if you have a decent sized tree on your property you cannot cut it down or dramatically prune it without either getting an arborist to certify that it’s dying or paying a fairly large fee. The rules have been around for a while, but they were updated last year by Council legislation. Here are the rules in more detail:

In the District of Columbia, there are two designations for very large trees:  Special and Heritage.  It is illegal to remove trees in either of these designations without a permit.
Special Trees are between 44″ and 99.9″ in circumference.  A permit to remove a Special Tree can be obtained without cost if the tree is declared by a certified arborist to be dead, dying, or dangerous to person or property.  Otherwise, the cost of a permit is no less than $55 per inch of circumference.  If a Special Tree is removed without a permit, the fine is no less than $300 per inch of circumference.
Heritage Trees are 100″ and above in circumference.  Permit to remove a Heritage Tree can be obtained only if the tree is declared by the Urban Forestry Administration (UFA)  to be dead, dying or dangerous to person or property.  The penalty for removal without a permit is no less than $300 per inch of circumference (a minimum fine of $30,000!)   However, a Heritage Tree can be transplanted within the District of Columbia but must live at least 3 years after transplanting, with a fine of no less than $300 per inch of circumference.if the tree dies.   One can build around a Heritage Tree with a Tree Save Plan, approved by UFA, but if the tree dies within 3 years, the fine is no less than $300 per inch of circumstances.
If a Special or Heritage Tree is topped (unacceptable act of tree pruning resulting in the indiscriminate reduction of the tree’s crown leading to disfigurement or death of a tree), the fine is    no less than $300 per inch of circumference.
It does not take a giant tree to be a “special tree”; a circumference of 44″ is just not that big. The cost to take down the smallest “special tree” is about $2,500. But if you cut that same tree down without a permit, the fine starts around $13,000. In other words, don’t mess with trees on your property unless you get a certified arborist to verify that it’s dead, dying or dangerous.
What you see in the photo above is a willow that was just “topped”. It’s behind a house on O St. This hack job will probably kill the tree (which was possibly the objective of the homeowner, who has for years been seeking approval to build a building on the rear of her property.) It was reported and will likely result in a five figure fine.
GM has a crab apple in his rear yard that was also “topped” by the previous home owner about 8 years ago. What once was one of the most beautiful trees on the alley has been reduced to a sad tree, slowly limping towards death. (Imagine the later half of the Giving Tree).
So please, for the sake of the tree and the sake of your wallet, don’t do significant tree work without a permit and a certified arborist. And if you see a company hacking away at a tree in a manner that looks haphazard, take a photo of the workers and their truck and report it to the Urban Forestry Division of DDOT.


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3 responses to “Don’t Do This To Your Trees

  1. Do you know what kind of crab apple tree is in your yard? If they are a particular type with about a 1″ diameter, this cider hobbyist would like to talk.

  2. Topher

    Sadly, the very few fruit it produces are about a quarter inch across.

  3. Pingback: Stop Doing This to Trees! | The Georgetown Metropolitan

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