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Urban Forest Ordinance sets rules for care of city’s trees

On May 5, the Hudson City Council adopted an Urban Forest Ordinance that regulates “the planting, removal and care for trees.”

The introduction gives a lengthy list of reasons for the ordinance, including to:

--Promote public health, safety and welfare;

--Prevent the spread of fire;

--Prevent the spread of tree diseases;

--Protect property values;

--Enhance aesthetics;

--Increase road safety;

--Reduce the potential for trees being public nuisances and hazards;

--Protect trees from loss during construction;

--Encourage the use of trees to conserve energy;

--Encourage and maintain an optimal level of age and species diversity;

--Provide specifications for planting, caring for and removing trees;

--Require permits for planting trees on any street right-of-way or public property; and

--Provide a forum for conflict resolution.

The section on the ordinance’s intended purpose concludes: “The purpose of this ordinance is to regulate the trimming, pruning, planting and removal of trees in the city in an effort to achieve the above goals, to preserve the health and maintain the natural shape of such trees, and to prevent trimming, pruning, planting and removal that is unnecessarily disfiguring and/or destructive.”

Public property regulations

The ordinance makes it unlawful for anyone to plant a tree on a street right of way or other public property without a permit from the city.

The area between a sidewalk and the street curb (sometimes called the boulevard) is part of the street right of way. In places where there is no sidewalk, the city-owned right of way generally extends a few feet into the lawn of a home.

A tree permit application for planting in rights of way will be available through the city’s Public Works and Parks Department.

The application will ask for the common and scientific names of the tree to be planted, the location (including a diagram) and the size of the tree.

Applicants will be referred to a set of tree-planting guides. They require planting trees 10 to 15 feet from water lines and fire hydrants, 5 to 10 feet from gas lines, 20 to 25 feet from streetlights, 25 feet from stop signs and 5 feet from previous tree stumps.

No vegetation higher than 2.5 feet is allowed within 25 feet of street corners.

Property owners are advised to check with Xcel Energy on planting near power lines, and to plant far enough away from lot lines so the mature tree canopy is on their own property.

Only certain trees may be planted on street rights of way. The property owner will receive a list of 63 allowed trees, along with the planting application. The ordinance says the list will be updated annually by the city forester.

The city forester is defined as a person or city employee designated by the City Council as authorized to carry out provisions of Chapter 229 of the Municipal Code, titled “Trees.”

The ordinance prohibits anyone from trimming, pruning or removing trees on public property (other than authorized city personnel).

It bans placing salt, brine, petroleum products, herbicides or anything other substances that can harm trees on or near a tree on public property.

It also prohibits driving nails, staples or screws into public trees, or fastening rope, wire, electric attachments or signs of any kind to them. That includes any guard around a public tree.

Private property

The ordinance requires the owner of a tree overhanging a public right of way to kept it pruned so that it doesn’t interfere with the proper spread of light from a streetlight or block a traffic sign or signal, or block the view of motorists at an intersection.

If the city forester or a designee learns of a diseased or insect-infested tree on private property that threatens the health of the urban forest, the city will notify the owner that the tree has to be treated or removed within 14 days of notification.

“The city shall have the right, but not the obligation, to remove any public nuisance (or portion of) tree on private property within the city when such tree constitutes a hazard to life or property,” the ordinance says in Section 229-14 of the Municipal Code.

The ordinance gives the city the right to remove the tree or problem branches and charge the property owner for the expense if the owner fails to do it. The expense will be added to the property owner’s tax bill.

Property owners are prohibited from storing “any bark bearing diseased elm wood or diseased oak wood or emerald ash borer infested ash wood or material without first contacting the city forester to review the written guidelines regarding wood storage.”

The ordinance recommends that no one prune oak trees between April 1 and Oct. 15, because warm-weather pruning of oaks has the potential to speed the tree-killing oak wilt disease.


The city forester or his or her designee is charged with notifying violators of the ordinance of their noncompliance, and the action they need to take to come into compliance.

If the problem isn’t corrected within a given time, the property owner could be subject to a forfeiture of $25 to $1,500 for each day the violation continues, along with the city’s costs of prosecuting the case.

The ordinance says that if the fine and court costs aren’t paid, the property owner can be jailed until they are, but not more than 90 days.

Upon conviction of a second offense, the daily forfeiture increases to between $50 and $2,500.

If the forfeiture and court costs still haven’t been paid after a violator has spent 90 days in jail, the court may issue an execution against his or her property for the payment, the ordinance says.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

(715) 426-1066