Roadside Tree Policy

Monday, January 22, 2018
Decisions regarding roadside tree management can be some of the most difficult in our industry. While citizens are largely content to go along with municipalities and utilities when it comes to cyclical pruning and planting of roadside trees, tempers can often flare when it comes to removal of trees considered significant or special in any way. It is important to note - each state has its own laws, regulations, policies, and case laws which comprise the body of law surrounding roadside tree policy. One should consult an attorney for interpretation of those regulations.
Generally, municipalities are responsible for the care and maintenance of public shade trees and those along roadways. In Maine, these responsibilities are set forth in Title 30-A of the Maine Revised Statutes, laws pertaining to the authorities of municipalities and counties. They are complemented by laws pertaining to the Maine Forest Service, Plant Industry, and Public Utilities. While Maine law firmly places responsibility on municipalities for the maintenance and removal of trees within the public right-of-way, more often when issues arise, municipalities take a collaborative approach.

The state champion white pine sits alongside a state road in a small community in central Maine. The towering giant has brushed with national fame, bouncing on and off the national register several times. Resting only a few feet off the edge of the pavement, town and state crews who work to maintain the road have always been very conscientious about avoiding the tree while doing road work, particularly while snow plowing. It’s a group effort to ensure the tree’s survival. That said, the tree is of slightly abnormal form, and with a trunk dividing at roughly 40 feet, and two leaders reaching skyward to 130 feet, the tree has always been recognized as dangerous to motorists passing through.
After 37 years on the state big tree registry, the Maine Department of Transportation has decided the risk of maintaining the tree is too great. But the story doesn’t end there. While the department ultimately has the authority to make that decision, its vegetation management team has graciously worked with the abutting landowner, the Maine Forest Service, and the town to ease the sting of losing a tree of this significance. Communication throughout the decision-making process has been critical to containing those previously mentioned flaring tempers. Most tree work doesn’t require this level of planning, but it all requires communication before, during, and after the work is complete. Many forestry types don’t naturally gravitate toward communication of this nature, but it is critical to the work we do and a greater understanding of the importance and value of our roadside trees.