Austin Heritage Tree Foundation
Protecting trees

Imminent Tree Removal

                                    HOW TO HELP A TREE THAT IS BEING REMOVED OR IS BEING IMPACTED

Protected tree = any tree with a linear diameter of at least 19 inches measured 4.5 ft. from the ground (any species). 

Heritage tree = a tree with a linear diameter of at least 24 inches measured 4.5 ft. from the ground of the following species:  
                         all oaks, Pecan, American Elm, Cedar Elm, Texas Ash, Arizona Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Bald Cypress,
                         Bigtooth Maple and Texas Madrone.

Notes: 

  • Hackberries and Ashe Juniper (cedar) are not invasive species and are good trees for wildlife. 
  • In a time of drought, all healthy trees provide shade, food and shelter and are worth preserving, especially the largest ones.  Please, consider not removing the largest chinaberry trees while we are in a severe drought. 
  • Always replant native grasses and trees soon after removing large invasive trees from areas to remain green, because otherwise the shady area under the large tree that was removed will now be sunny and taken over by Johnson grass and ragweed soon. 
  • Fire concerns should be addressed with a complete Firewise program (City of Austin, Travis County, Texas Forest Service) that prioritizes hardening the home rather than removing healthy trees.  Ashe junipers do not take more water than other trees, but they are prolific.  Thinning them (removing some of the younger ones) following Firewise recommendations is OK rather than removing them all.  Old growth ashe junipers are particularly valuable.  Proper land management does not mean eradicating all ashe junipers but managing the land by thinning ashe juniper, removing invasives, planting native grasses and trees, capturing the water instead of letting it run down the site, etc. 

    All trees larger than 19 inches in diameter within city limits require an approved tree permit before being removed.  Heritage trees require a variance to remove the tree, to prune more than 25% of the canopy, or to encroach on the root zone (dripline).

    If a healthy protected tree or heritage tree is about to be removed
    , explain to the person about to cut the tree that he/she needs a permit and ask them to stop.  If you can't talk to the person, call 911 and ask for the Police department.  Explain that a tree protected by the City of Austin is about to be removed, and this may be violating the city's Protected Tree Ordinance 25-8-621 or Heritage Tree Ordinance 25-8-641.  Ask them to send a patrol car right away. 

    Also, contact the City Arborist Office by emailing cityarborist@austintexas.gov (emails are read even on weekends), but be aware that it takes time to get a reply.  If there is an imminent removal, do not wait and call 911 (police) to prevent the tree removal. 

    If there is time and/or you can not email the City Arborist, call 311 and report the potential tree removal.  Give them a sense of urgency, otherwise it may take time to get a reply. 

    Also, check to see if there is an approved tree permit at: https://www.ci.austin.tx.us/devreview/a_queryfolder_permits.jsp

    More instructions at the City Arborist web site: http://www.austintexas.gov/department/city-arborist

    The City Arborist can also help with other tree issues, such as exposed roots, equipment or anything else under the tree's canopy, construction impacting trees, machinery close to the tree without a tree protection fence, etc. 

    If the tree needs water, contact us to show you how to implement a watering program (email us at joinAHTF@gmail.com).

    Please, be aware that private trees belong to the landowner and that development cannot be stopped because there are trees in the lot.  The City has reasonable tree regulations to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens and the landowner has to follow the City's tree regulations. 

Having heritage trees in your property does NOT reduce the value of your land because the heritage tree ordinance allows flexibility and the intent is to preserve the trees whenever feasible.  Please, consult with the City Arborist.

Protected Tree 25-8-621 and Heritage Tree 25-861 Ordinances at this link:

https://www.municode.com/library/tx/austin/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=TIT25LADE_CH25-8EN

Mitigation information and other tree regulations in the Environmental Technical Manual, Section 3:

https://www.municode.com/library/tx/austin/codes/environmental_criteria_manual?nodeId=S3TRNAARPR


Tree protection ordinances are reasonable regulations to protect the most important trees and are not meant to stop development. 
Heritage trees provide ecological benefits to the community as well as improving the physical and mental health of the residents.  Desirable trees grow slowly and nowadays, it is much more difficult for trees to survive, much less to reach heritage size.  It takes 100 years to grow a 100 year old tree, not 10 years, not 20 years. 

When a heritage tree is removed and other young trees are planted, it takes 3-4 generations before some of those young trees, if any survives, can replace the heritage tree that was removed.  This means that only your great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren will experience the joys and benefits that the healthy old tree that you removed today provided, and only if you plant many trees and you and other people care for the survivor trees throughout the years until one tree reaches 100 years.

It is good to plant, but it is better to preserve our heritage trees.  Developers, citizens and the City should work together to preserve native trees, especially heritage trees, whenever reasonably feasible to benefit all of Austin.

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