Protection Toolkit banner - Big Trees April 2013

American Forests values trees: big, small, old, young, ordinary and extraordinary. Sometimes, though, prized trees in yards, neighborhoods, communities or even national forests find themselves in danger from diseases, pests, storms and — too often — the consequences of living alongside humans. Unlike most things, which depreciate with age, trees appreciate in value over time and provide more benefits as they get older, which is why it’s important to protect treasured trees from destruction.

When a tree is threatened due to human activity, such as street expansion, construction or negligence, it is imperative to know the reasons for removal and who to contact. The process of protecting or saving a tree is a worthwhile investment of time, and American Forests has developed steps to help you during this endeavor. Below, we have detailed action items, in chronological order, that reveal how to protect a threatened tree, as well as templates and other tools, or click here to download a PDF of the complete Tree Protection Toolkit. With a little dedication, you can save prized trees that provide us with so many critical benefits.


Step One:

Credit: Tony Alter

Credit: Tony Alter

Understand why your tree is important.

Most likely, you love your tree for its beauty and aesthetics, but your tree is actually part of a larger ecosystem: the urban forest. American Forests defines urban forests as “ecosystems of trees and other vegetation in and around communities that may consist of street and yard trees, vegetation within parks and along public rights of way and water systems.” Urban forests are critical to the health and quality of life for people, but they also require humans’ help to stay healthy, which means that every tree counts.

Beyond a tree’s contribution to the urban forest, it also has specific value of its own, including environmental, social and economic benefits that pay big dividends to improve our quality of life.

Check out the myriad benefits trees provide.


Step Two:

Credit: John Benson

Credit: John Benson

Determine why your tree is threatened.

Is the tree at risk of being removed for aesthetic purposes? Is it healthy? Does it pose a danger to life, health or property? The answers to these questions will inform your next step.

If your tree is at risk for aesthetic purposes, such as blocking a view or leaves, nuts or fruit on the neighbor’s property, talk to your neighbor and try to find a compromise to save the tree. They may not be aware of the many benefits trees provide. If the health of the tree is failing or poses an immediate danger, there may be just cause to remove it, but ask for whomever is planning to remove it to inform you of the reasons why the tree needs to go. At this point, it’s also important to contact an arborist to take a risk assessment of the tree.


Step Three:

Credit: Baltimore City Recreation & Parks

Credit: Baltimore City Recreation & Parks

Consult an arborist.

An arborist is a specialist trained in the art and science of arboriculture, which is the cultivation, management and study of individual trees and other woody plants. Arborists focus on the health and safety of individual plants and trees and are equipped to provide proper care. It is important to consult with an arborist about the condition of your tree so they can provide a risk assessment.

Tree risk assessments rely on identifying and assessing the structural condition of the tree to determine its weak points and failure potential. Assessment and management of tree risk is based on the science of biomechanics — the way trees grow for structural support and biological function — which will determine whether or not the tree is a danger to human life or property.

To find a certified arborist in your area, visit the International Society of Arboriculture’s website.


Step Four:

Credit: Friends of the Urban Forest

Credit: Friends of the Urban Forest

Find your local tree ordinance.

Tree ordinances are public laws developed by communities to protect trees, preserve greenspaces and manage urban forests. There may already be a law in place in your community to protect your tree.

Discover more about tree ordinances and how they can save your tree.


Step Five:

Credit: Friends of the Urban Forest

Credit: Friends of the Urban Forest

Make contacts.

Different departments and agencies within a municipality are responsible for handling tree and land-use issues. National and local tree planting organizations may also have information on how to protect or recognize your tree locally. Try to find a professional who knows the tree ordinances in your area that will be able to provide details on tree preservation measures.

Check out our list of the types of local contacts who will be able to help you with your tree.


Step Six:

Credit: Wayne National Forest

Credit: Wayne National Forest

Calculate the value of your tree.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but they can save you some. According to the U.S. Forest Service, for every $1 you invest annually in trees, you get a return of about $2.70 in benefits.

Discover how you can calculate the benefits and value of your tree.


Step Seven:

Credit: American Forests

Credit: American Forests

Nominate your tree.

Having the biggest tree in your community is a rallying tool to help save the tree. American Forests’ National Register of Big Trees is a bi-annual publication listing the biggest tree of more than 780 species in the country. It is possible that your tree may be a contender for the National Register or your state and local champion tree programs. Several communities also protect heritage trees with unique historical or cultural value, so learn about your local tree ordinances to see if your tree is automatically protected.

Step Eight:

Credit: SPUR

Credit: SPUR

Write a letter.

Start a letter writing campaign to get support from your city council for your tree. Feel free to incorporate talking points from the Tree Benefits fact sheet in your letter. Spread the word and encourage others to write letters as well.

Daunted by the thought of writing a letter? We have a sample letter template available, as well as helpful tips on how to get started.


Step Nine:

Credit: SPUR

Credit: SPUR

Get community support.

One of the best ways to rally support to save a tree is to get the community involved. Through letter writing campaigns, petitions and media coverage, you have a greater chance of being heard. Oftentimes, city officials are not aware of a tree’s special status, but with the help of others, including any local tree preservation or conservation groups, a solution can be found to protect the tree or stop urban expansion.

Step Ten:

Credit: VA State Parks

Credit: VA State Parks

Tell us your story.

We want to hear about your tree-saving triumphs and frustrations. These stories will help us make these resources better for tree advocates like yourself, but will also serve as inspiration for other tree lovers out there, as we share them on our website, blog and social media.

Please send your stories to bigtrees@americanforests.org.


It’s also important to help protect and maintain your community forest for the long term. Here are some actions you can take to ensure the longevity of our trees and urban forests.

Develop a tree ordinance.
If your town does not have a tree ordinance and you would like to develop one, check out our resources that will get you started.

Establish a heritage tree or champion big tree program.
Trees have cultural and historical significance, serve as landmarks, are champions for their size and have sometimes lived for hundreds of years. They are an important part of every community and should be preserved. Several communities recognize trees for their unique characteristics through heritage tree programs or champion big tree programs. Learn how you can build a heritage or champion big tree program in your area.

Learn new tree care tips.
If you’re wondering about tree care, concerned about the health of your trees or just have a tree-related question, American Forests and The Davey Tree Expert Company have the answer. Check out our list of tree care tips or ask a Consulting Arborist your tree care question.