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The following are answers to common public inquiries about the management of public and private trees in Birmingham.
Public trees: Trees on public property, including the street rights-of-way and parks, are managed by the City’s Department of Public Services. All work on public trees must be done or approved by the City. To prune or plant a tree on public property, the property owner must obtain a permit (See Appendix C) and hire a Tree Service registered with the City Clerk.
Private trees: Trees on private property are the responsibility of the property owner. Tree planting, maintenance, and removals are at the discretion of the property owner. In specific situations, such as the discovery of diseased trees, property owners may be required by the City to take specific action on their public tree, such as removal or pruning. In addition, private trees within 25-feet of new development are considered in site plan reviews.
Shared trees: Some trees are considered shared ownership trees (typically located inside of the sidewalk and/or on the edge of the right-of-way). The City maintains these trees and all the rules and regulations pertaining to public trees still apply. However, the City may be more inclined to allow for shared ownership tree removals in certain situations.
What can I do if a City tree is interfering with my construction project (renovation, new building, new driveway approach, sidewalk installation, etc.)? Can I remove or trim the tree, or prune its roots?
During construction and development, all work near public trees must go through the City’s site plan review process before work can commence. Removal, pruning, and root pruning of public trees is strictly prohibited unless approved in a site plan or tree work permit. The City’s Tree Preservation Ordinance outlines these policies and associated fines (See Chapter 5: Tree Protection and Preservation).
The City contracts a Certified Arborist to perform inspections on public trees. If you suspect a tree in the street right-of-way is sick, injured, dead, or dying, contact the Department of Public Services. The Contracted Arborist will inspect the tree and make a determination on necessary maintenance and will respond or leave a Courtesy Notice at the caller’s property notifying what correct measures, if any, will be taken by the City (See Chapters 2 and 3 about public tree maintenance and pruning).
Public trees are pruned routinely as part of the City’s block trimming cycle, or when the tree presents a level of risk that requires pruning. The City prunes trees with the goals of minimizing risk to the public and keeping trees healthy to provide the maximum amount of tree benefits to the public. The City follows industry standards for pruning and, therefore, does not allow excessive or unnecessary pruning, topping of trees, or pruning strictly for aesthetics (See Chapters 2 and 3 about public tree maintenance and pruning).
If your City tree received a Low-Risk rating, it may take several months to be removed or pruned. When inspecting trees, the City performs a tree risk assessment in line with industry standards and assigns each tree a risk rating. The City then prioritizes all work based on risk rating. For the safety of the public, the City will perform work on all Extreme and High-Risk trees before addressing LowRisk trees, as Low-Risk trees are unlikely to cause immediate, severe damage to the public (See Chapters 2 and 3 about public tree maintenance and pruning).
Mature trees provide many more benefits than young trees. They provide more shade, filter more pollutants, absorb more storm water, and have a greater effect on reducing energy costs; the larger the tree, the more benefits it provides to the public. Additionally, tree planting is an investment. Young trees can require more maintenance, such as watering, staking, and structural pruning. For these reasons, the City does allow the replacement of existing trees unless the tree is dead or presents a risk to the public or the removal is part of an approved construction site plan.
How can I request a new tree planting for the right-of-way (lawn strip or tree bed) adjacent to my property?
The City of Birmingham plants about 200 public trees each year. To request a new public tree, call the Department of Public Services at 248-530-1700. The City will send a staff member or Introduction 6 Contracted Arborist to inspect the location. Determination on suitable planting sites and species selection are at the discretion of the City.
Because the Department of Public Services has jurisdiction over public trees, the City chooses which tree species are planted at each site. The City’s Contracted Arborist is knowledgeable about which tree is the appropriate choice for the site, following industry standards. While the public may have strong opinions about individual trees, species selections are made with many considerations in mind: site characteristics, species tolerances, overall diversity of the urban forest, future maintenance needs, pest and disease concerns, and nursery availability (See Chapter 1: Tree Planting and Early Care).
The City has the final determination is selecting sites and species for tree plantings on public property, including the street right-of-way adjacent to private property. Trees on public property provide the entire community with the many environmental, aesthetic, and economic benefits. In Birmingham, public trees are viewed as necessary infrastructure. Just as the placement of other community assets such as fire hydrants and streetlights cannot be refuted, tree placement is viewed as a public asset that cannot be refuted. For these reasons, the City retains the right to deny any request to refuse a public tree. Few exceptions can be made, such as for accessibility issues or legitimate infrastructure conflicts (See Chapter 1 for planting information and Chapter 4 for justified reasons for tree removals).
The urban forest is highly valued by community members in Birmingham. The social, economic, and environmental benefits of the City’s urban trees amount to more than $21 million. Trees reduce energy costs, filter the air, and reduce storm water runoff. They provide wildlife habitat and contribute greatly to the beauty and character of the City, even in its heavily built-up commercial areas.