So, what does a tree warden do?



BRANDON — As Brandon’s tree warden, I’ve been asked questions about particular trees and what I might do about them. Truth be told, what is required of the Town of Brandon Tree Warden is complicated. 

First of all, in Brandon, the position of tree warden is voluntary. There is no line in the town budget to compensate the tree warden. 

I’ve tried to explain to people who’ve asked me about resources for trees that (at least in my interpretation) the position of tree warden in Brandon has historically been reactive, not pro-active. What I mean is the tree warden doesn’t usually tour the town streets looking for trees needing removal—quite the opposite. 

When a townsperson has or observes a tree that they think may be failing or dangerous, they should contact the Town Manager, the tree warden, or the head of the Department of Public Works. There is frequent communication between us regarding trees. Public Works will then likely perform a preliminary evaluation of the tree.  So, the first step starts with the citizen, you.

The tree warden has the final say to determine if a shade tree should be considered a public hazard and, if so, to authorize its removal.  Removing a tree is never a lightly made decision, as you can see further along in this article. Trees contribute a lot to our community and take a long time to grow, so removing a tree is a last resort. This brings up a complicated question. What is the tree warden allowed and required to do?

Statutes regulating the position of tree warden were amended and updated effective November 2020. The statutes limit municipal control, via the tree warden, to “shade trees.” According to Vermont Title 24, Chapter 067, various sections (I’ll call these “the regulations” from now on), a “shade tree” is defined as a shade or ornamental tree located in the public way or public place, provided that the tree was planted by the municipality or designated as a shade tree through a municipal Shade Tree Preservation Plan (STPP).  

Again, from the regulations, with some interpretation.  The STPP shall:

  • describe a program for planting new trees and shrubs
  • provide for the maintenance of shade trees via feeding, pruning, and protection from disease and pests
  • determine financial considerations for services to other municipalities
  • determine whether tree maintenance or removal requires approval of another municipal officer or body, and  
  • Determine the process for the removal of diseased, dying, or dead shade trees and any shade trees that create a hazard to public safety, impact a disease or insect control program, or must be removed for another specified reason.

Brandon does have a tree inventory currently underway. Still, we frequently don’t have records that indicate who planted a tree, making the first half of the shade tree definition difficult to determine (but we do have records for the trees planted as part of Segment 6). We do not currently have an STPP, so we can’t designate a shade tree via an STPP. That makes determining a tree covered by the statutes rather more complicated.

According to the regulations: 

  • The tree warden shall control all shade trees within the municipality.
  • The tree warden may remove or cause to be removed from the public spaces trees that are infested or infected or that constitute a public hazard. 
  • The tree warden may also determine that the town or an owner or lessee of abutting property has sufficiently controlled all insect pests or tree diseases upon the trees within a public space and may determine that it is not necessary to remove the trees.

Additionally, a shade tree shall not be cut or removed in whole or in part, except by a tree warden or their deputy, or by a person having the written permission of a tree warden. There is also a notification and hearing process when removal is deemed necessary. 

If these steps are not taken, there is a penalty for “whoever shall willfully mar or deface a shade tree without the written permission of a tree warden or legislative body…” or who “willfully and critically injures or cuts down a shade tree without written permission….”

I know that regulations of any sort are hard to read and even harder to make sense of.  Hopefully, this will help sort out what a tree warden must do, what they can do, and what they should do. We’re also working on completing the tree inventory and developing an STPP for the select board and the residents of Brandon. It’s slow going, but I think we’re making great progress towards having a tree management program that will protect the entire tree canopy in Brandon for generations to come.

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