Portland, Oregon Tree Code

In 2011, the City of Portland, Oregon developed a new tree code in order to preserve the urban forest and to actualize goals in the city's 2007 Urban Forest Action Plan. Prior to the new tree code, tree-related regulations were inconsistent with city policies and processes relating to planting and removal of city, street, and private trees. Recognizing that trees provide environmental, social and economic benefits to the city, the City of Portland established a legal framework and clear permitting processes to regulate trees in both development and non-development situations. The Tree Code helps build the City’s resiliency under the changing climate and aims for a more equitable distribution of street, city, and private trees that make up the City’s urban forest. Other cities may consider enacting similar regulations to preserve their urban forests and plant trees in the frontline communities.  

The City Council overhauled the city's tree codes in 2011, consolidating most rules into a new Title 11 (Trees), with enforcement taking effect in July 2013. Subsequent ordinances since 2011 have further modified the Tree Code and provided additional protections. The code lists nine desired benefits of urban trees, such as “capturing air pollutants and carbon dioxide,” “[f]iltering stormwater and reducing stormwater runoff,” and “[r]educing energy demand and urban heat island” (§ 11.05.010). The Code establishes permitting processes for tree-related activities to protect individual property rights and public interests (§ 11.30.010). The Tree Code then sets out requirements that must be met regarding tree removal and replacement in both development and non-development circumstances and in the context of the city and street trees as well as private trees (§ 11.10.020). The permits are reviewed and approved by a City Forester or the Bureau of Development Services. If unsatisfied with the decisions, the applicants can further appeal to the Urban Forestry Appeals Board.

A Tree Planting and Preservation Fund was created “to ensure mitigation or tree replacement when tree preservation or tree density standards are not met on a particular site, and to advance the City’s goals for the urban forest and intend to achieve equitable distribution of tree-related benefits across the City” (§ 11.15.010). The funds are used to plant trees on streets and public or private property, to purchase conservation easements for retention of tree canopy, and to acquire lands permanently for the protection of trees and groves. The sources of funds are mainly contributed through in-lieu fees, such as the payment for replacement trees when the City Forester decides that the properties or streets in place are unsuitable for tree replacement, or payment in lieu of the tree planting to meet tree density requirements. However, voluntary donations and payments resulting from enforcement actions relating to trees on privately-owned land also contribute to the Fund. A separate Urban Forestry Fund exists to replace or plant new trees on city land or in the streetscape and to educate the public and communities about tree care and the benefits of the urban forest (§ 11.15.020). This fund is populated with enforcement fees relating to city or street trees illegally removed or damaged, and voluntary contributions.

The equitable distribution of investments in the city’s urban forest, focusing on areas of low tree density, is consistent with the city’s 2007 Urban Forest Action Plan, which includes targeting low-income and low-tree-canopy neighborhoods for street tree planting as high priority early actions. Other localities can consider enacting this funding mechanism to further enhance the tree plantation in the most needed communities. 

Publication Date: 2011

Related Organizations:

  • City of Portland, Oregon

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  • Laws
  • Regulation

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