Tree Protection Gone Wrong

I work for a design / build landscape construction company. Part of my job is to pull permits for the installations of the hardscapes (patios, driveways, walks, pergolas, lighting, etc) along with tree permits. For me, the tree permits are the ones I’m most involved with. Sometimes, I am the arborist that visits the property before construction to determine the condition, size* and type of trees on the lot. I look at what the architect has designed for the property and determine how it will effect the trees around the site. I then produce what is called a tree survey. These surveys determine which trees stay and which trees go. My tree survey then goes to the city to determine how many inches of trees will have to be removed from the property. *Size is determined by measuring the width of the trunk at breast height or ‘Diameter at Breast Height’ (DBH), which has been determined to be 4′ 5″ (1.38m).

The city forester will look at the survey and calculate how many trees were in decent condition, of good quality or of decent size were removed. This number will translate into an inch amount the client will need to replace on their property or pay the tree inch fees. Many times, the return amount could be in upwards of 100″. Not only do the clients need to return 100″ to the property, every municipality has a different list to follow for the trees that actually count towards tree return inches. Many of these trees are native; oaks, hackberry, sycamore, tupelo, tulip trees and spruce are commonly on the approved list. However, many of my clients request chanticleer pear lined driveways and screening arborvitae are not on the list.

The trees on the survey that are marked to stay must be maintained to be able to survive construction. ‘Tree Fencing’ must be installed around the trees that are to remain. Placement of this fencing is usually 1′ foot away from the tree for each inch of DBH. As you can see in the photos below, this fencing is clearly not as far away from the trunk as it should be..  my guess these trees are about 18″ DBH requiring 18′ around the them. Let’s ice this cake with a bunch of construction waste leaning up against the trunk. The last photo shows a large amount of soil piled up on a nearby tree.

Usually, the city forester has to visit the site and approve the location of the tree fencing. I can’t imagine this was the original location (I did not do this survey). As you can see, there are many ruts from construction equipment all around the fencing. This traffic compacts the soil and suffocates the roots of the trees. It’s a slow death for the tree. A few years after the home is built, these trees will start declining and most likely will need to be removed. As these are very close to the foundation of the new home, along with being fairly large, it will be a costly removal.

Hopefully, this information will be helpful to anyone having any construction done and want to keep their trees!


ยฉ Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

33 thoughts on “Tree Protection Gone Wrong

  1. Thanks for highlighting this Ilex. I’m often asked to seek tree protection, or have to comply with council rules, but there is no requirement to have an arborist/landscape architect/ecologist oversee subsequent works – with results like your examples above.

    I normally use the Critical Root Zone method where a radius of protection is defined by giving a foot of radius per inch diameter at breast height (DBH) – a real trial for contractors here apparently. This usually goes beyond the (quite meaningless) dripline method and takes palms and wide and narrow trees into account

    I use a waratah (a Y section steel post – needs to be long enough to make withdrawing difficult) and wire to keep vehicles away. Although having a site meeting and explaining why goes a long way in my experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great comment Nigel!! ๐Ÿ˜
      I totally didn’t think to use the term “critical root zone” to explain my reasoning for the size of the circle. That’s exactly what we’re trying to protect. Since canopies can be of varying sizes, the concept of DBH inches transferred to feet away from the trunk came to be. (At least here it did).
      An arborist’s tree survey is not a requirement, unless you’re building on a fresh lot, where lots of trees are coming down or will be impacted by building. It also doesn’t bog down the city forester. If you’re just building a patio and need to either remove a few trees or protect some, the city forester will come out to do that.
      If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in the construction industry, it’s “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” ๐Ÿ˜‰ OK… that’s a joke! However, it’s sad that progress will trump correct methods of operation. I see many things that just make me cringe. I’ve spoken my piece and got an acknowledgement that the boss heard me, but nothing changes. ๐Ÿ˜”
      This is why I write these posts… To hopefully educate others that want to know WHY about things I know.
      Thanks for stopping by ๐Ÿ˜

      Liked by 2 people

  2. It seems like all the typical homeowners with just a few trees on an urban parcel are the ones who have the most difficulty with tree preservation ordinances. They go through all the effort to do things properly, only to get some weird stipulations back from the town, or get fined for damaging a tree. Yet, the developers of big properties that remove entire orchards or many huge oak trees at the same time get away with literal murder. If they get a fine, it is trivial, and they do not mind paying it because of the huge profits they earn from their type of work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The municipalities that I work in have pretty large penalties about tree removal. In 1987, this area had the infamous Mr. T move in and chop down over 100 old, oaks trees on his property. After that incident, the city implemented laws about how folks get fined.
      Generally, tree ordinances or any other ordinances in a community, aren’t that hard, a resident can go to the city and talk to the planner at any time. Rules are set so folks can live that close together, peacefully.
      Folks that don’t want to deal with as many rules, need to live where I do, in an unincorporated area. There is a bit more space between houses and less arguing about what’s going on outside a residence.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Maybe after they’ve lived here, in our Northshore area (just north of Chicago) ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ
          If you’ve seen any movies by director John Hughes, you’ve seen the area I work in. We used to maintain the house Ferris Bueller’s friend lived in and shot the Ferrari out the back of the garage into the ravine. Always gives me a giggle to drive by it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh! Those were my favorite movies of the 1980s! The Breakfast Club is probably my second favorite move of all time, after only the Wizard of Oz. Chicago was a big deal back then. It was like the place to be! In some big cities like Chicago and New York, some degree of gruffness is more tolerable as part of the local culture. San Jose had historically been a ‘suburban’ culture. There is nothing gruff about the natives. To make matters worse, there is a whole new type of rudeness that goes beyond gruffness. It comes from the sort of industry here, and the influx of other cultures that we are not so familiar with. By their standards, they are not very rude. In some cases, it is how we perceive their respect for personal space in crowded situations. Sadly, there are those who use this as an excuse for rudeness.

            Liked by 1 person

            • This rudeness is why I’m changing careers. I just can’t handle the level of rudeness some of the folks can get to. I’ve been called a moron, not knowing what the color pink is, installing a tree with leaves that were too large (?), planting flowers that attract bees, refusing to remove bird nests…. the list goes on. I’m treated like a servant, which I understand is my job, however its not a job for me.
              Hopefully, next year at this time, I’ll be working with senior citizens, doing horticulture therapy. ๐Ÿ˜

              Liked by 1 person

    • Ouch! ๐Ÿคค Usually, I find when a city goes and removes a large amount of trees, it’s for ‘progress’ (street widening, homes, safety…) or for the health of other trees in the area. Sadly, England (Europe in general) is having problems with plane trees getting infected with a disease called ‘wilt’.
      We have it over here also. Sadly, we brought it to your side of the pond ๐Ÿ˜”
      Thank you for reading, I appreciate it ๐Ÿ˜˜


  3. It is wonderful that there’s rules specifying that the existing trees need to be protected as far as possible and those that have to fall before development should be replaced! Challenge with that here in our developing country, and it seems there in your part of the world as well, is that there’s often just no enforcing of the rules (through lack of human or capital resources, incompetence, corruption, or whatever other reasons).

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s sad when there are rules set in place, but not enough folks to enforcement the rules. Believe me, these builders know not to do this, but money trumps everything. And this is in one of the richest areas here… the quote for just the landscaping was a $300,000. Ha! More than my house is worth and I have more property ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is very interesting. I had no idea there were so many laws there for the protection of large trees etc, but it makes sense – and to have someone like you to advise which ones to keep. The photos you show with the tyre tracks etc it’s no wonder those trees will die, poor things.
    Sadly, I know of no such laws over here; quite the reverse. The Council can come and cut down trees on the outside of your property as they wish. And ‘pro-indigenous flora’ people have been hacking down the pine forests that have been here in Cape Town for generations, taking away shade and protection against soil erosion. We have enough nature reserves full of fynbos; it’s really sad to see the decimated pine forests.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very interesting that Cape Town doesn’t have strict tree laws. I did visit your site, and you’re right (in my 10 min scan of site). Yes, there is protection on some endangered trees and forest, but that’s it… And it was only enacted in 1998, fairly recently.
      Now, don’t get me wrong.. I work in cities that are highly populated and RICH ๐Ÿ’ฐ. There are many more laws there. Yes, the city can come to your house and say, “You need to remove that diseased elm tree in your yard, if you don’t, the city will and bill you. ”
      On the other hand, I live in an unincorporated area, where we have less governing laws (the way I like it!).
      Here, you are supposed to pull a permit to remove a tree ($25 very cheap and no inch replacements), but many folks don’t, and unless someone complains, there are no “tree police” to catch you.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Amazing process. Britain is currently having a tree war in Sheffield where trees are being ripped out by the council in their 000s against the wishes of the people. Your process seems to be good if bureaucratic – TPOs are often abused in Britain. Itโ€™s a mine field.

    Liked by 1 person

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