By Gary Salmon
It has been a year since the passage of the new tree warden law and a year to try to interpret which changes are important and which are not. On Nov. 4, the Vermont Urban & Community Forestry Council sponsored a webinar featuring Carl Andeer, staff attorney for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. The goal of the webinar was to identify the key players and roles under this new law.
The players have not changed but their roles certainly have, and none more than the tree warden. This position historically held control of decision making regarding all trees within municipal public places (parks and recreation areas) and public ways (trees along town roads). The new law limits tree warden management to those trees planted by the municipality (largely public places) and those designated by the municipality through the creation of a “shade tree preservation plan,” which will include trees within town road right-of-ways (ROWs). There are currently no shade tree preservation plans but 10 communities are working on them (including Shrewsbury and Mt. Holly) and another six communities have expressed interest.
Absent a preservation plan, all roadside trees within town road ROWs are now under control of one of three agents: the select board, the town highway crew, and the actual landowner who owns the trees. There is no formal process for tree removals nor formal notice of intent to remove trees under this system and each can act independently regarding tree management. Communication obviously will be important under this system. For example, if a landowner inoculates their ash trees within the town ROW against emerald ash borer and the highway crew has them on a removal list, something has to give.
Select boards have always been the final authority in town related matters including trees. They remain as tree appeals courts and will probably be involved in large scale tree projects involving roadside trees (power line movement for example). They will give final approval to a town adopted preservation plan (along with the tree warden). The road crew is responsible for maintaining the roads as safe travel corridors. That includes road surfaces but adjacent roadside areas as well, which includes controlling vegetative growth which may be a hazard to vehicle travel. Abutting landowners can cut or not cut trees within their ROW.
The community at large also has involvement. They can still appeal decisions on trees under tree warden control; they can attend the public meeting or meetings regarding the shade tree preservation plan (one public meeting is required); they can stay interested in town trees.
Although in rural towns the physical area of tree warden responsibility has shrunk, the position remains an important one. They will be advisory to select boards, highway crews, and landowners on tree related matters. They are required to approve a town’s shade tree plan. They remain as an important player when large scale tree infestations like emerald ash borer come along. What is your town doing regarding its tree future?