Group proposes improvements to city’s tree policies

Claremont is home to majestic trees, a testament to years of purposeful planning, planting, and dedicated tree stewardship. The towering giants that grace our streets are not mere happenstance; they are the result of deliberate efforts by both the city’s workforce and an engaged community. Decades of hard work and collaboration resulted in our renown “City of Trees.”

The windstorm of Jan. 21, 2022 was traumatic for our community, uprooting many mature trees and buckling sidewalks. As a result, the Claremont Community and Human Services Commission’s Tree Committee approved a staff proposal to remove over 1,000 trees based solely on their species. The proposal would have removed many of the city’s largest and most benefit providing trees. This caused considerable public outcry; removal decisions should always be based on individual tree health and risk assessments using International Society of Arboriculture standards by tree risk assessment qualified arborists.

To ensure better decision-making and strengthen our urban forest management policies, a group of community members with professional backgrounds in planning, biology, and arboriculture have been reviewing Claremont’s Tree Policy Manual, General Plan, City Code, and Management Plan. We have developed the following recommendations:


Improve decision-making and transparency
The city should employ a full-time International Society of Arboriculture arborist with tree risk assessment, municipal specialist, and wildlife rraining qualifications.

City staff should create a standalone tree committee (such as the committee on aging) consisting of residents who have expertise specific to urban forests. Alternatively, this committee could fall under a restored environmental quality commission where members would provide additional recommendations and oversight on other pressing issues.

City staff should introduce proposed tree removals to the tree committee prior to any action, excepting an immediate hazard, and must follow requirements for removal in the tree policy manual. Any trees proposed for removal due to hardscape/infrastructure damage must demonstrate that (1) repair cannot occur without destroying the tree, and (2) there is no cost effective alternative to the removal exists. Tree “disease” should not be immediate grounds for removal. Removal should occur only when a qualified expert has determined that it “has lost its productive capacity and is not likely to recover despite the application of available remedies” (page 26, policy manual).

Several signatories recommend the city move the oversight of all urban forestry planning, implementation, and management from the community services department to the community development department. Community services staff roles and expertise are in maintaining city assets. Community development staff create and implement multi-year plans, oversee tree requirements in developments, preserve city assets, and enforce city codes.


Improve wildlife preservation
City staff should modify the policy manual by restricting all tree pruning during bird nesting season (March through July) and require inspections by a wildlife-trained arborist to document that no nesting birds are present prior to any pruning during the remaining months.


Improve policy and planning
The following recommendation comes from Claremont’s Urban Forest Management Plan (page 16):

“In order to be consistent and strengthen the program a detailed review and revision of plans, policies, codes and priorities should be conducted. Include members of each department so that all aspects of urban forestry — preservation, maintenance, risk management, and development – are considered.”


Additional recommendations
Focus on the 60 actions identified in Claremont’s 2020-2025 Urban Forest Management Plan; require permits for commercial/multifamily tree pruning to minimize hazardous practices like tree topping; develop a private property tree ordinance; reinvigorate the heritage tree program; work with organizations to educate residents about tree care best practices.

Though the 2022 windstorm was an unusual event, we are likely to see more extreme weather pressuring our urban forest as climate change continues to impact our region. Adopting these recommendations will protect our community and continue our legacy of ensuring a healthier, safer, and more beneficial urban forest for generations to come.

Katherine Friedman
Bob Gerecke
Richard Haskell, Ph.D.
Nina J. Karnovsky, Ph.D
Wallace Meyer, Ph.D.
Barnabas Path
Drew Ready
Sorrel Stielstra, Ph.D.
Mark Von Wodtke
Stuart Wood, Ph.D.


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