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Do I Need a Permit to Remove My Tree?

Do I Need a Permit to Remove My Tree?

When looking into whether or not you need a permit when removing a tree off of your private property in Portland, there are a lot of factors to consider. Thankfully, the City of Portland highlights the key points for you.

First, does the property have an active development permit or will it be developed or re-developed soon? If so, a BDS (Bureau of Development Services) permit is required and you can find out more information by calling 823-7526.

Next, is the tree a Heritage Tree? If so, an UF (Urban Forestry) permit is required, and you can apply for one by clicking here.

According to the City of Portland, Heritage Trees are trees that have been formally recognized by City Council for their unique size, age, historical or horticultural significance. Once accepted by Council, Heritage Trees are designated with a small plaque and listed in the Heritage Tree database.

There are nearly 300 Heritage Trees throughout Portland, and new trees are added each year. Anyone can nominate a Heritage Tree! Heritage Trees are protected by City Code; once designated, no Heritage Tree can be removed without the consent by the Urban Forestry Commission and the Portland City Council.

Third, does a land use review govern the tree’s preservation? If so, a BDS permit is required.

Is the tree located within one of the following Overlay Zones and/or Plan Districts?

Overlay Zones: c, g, h, i, n, p, q, r, s, v

Plan Districts:

  • Cascade Station/Portland International Center Plan District
  • Columbia South Shore Plan District
  • Johnson Creek Basin Plan District
  • Portland International Airport Plan District
  • Rocky Butte Plan District
  • South Auditorium Plan District

If you answered yes, a BDS or UF permit is likely required. You can get more clarity by calling 823-TREE (8733).

Is the tree 12 inches in diameter at breast height (DBH) or greater? If so, a UF Permit is required. Diameter at breast height, or DBH, is the standard for measuring trees. DBH refers to the tree diameter measured at 4.5 feet above the ground.

DBH can be measured quickly with a specially calibrated diameter tape, often referred to as d-tape, that displays the diameter measurement when wrapped around the circumference of a tree. If you don’t have access to d-tape, you can find the diameter of the tree using a string, measuring tape, a thumb tack and a calculator. For more information on measuring, click here.

Is the tree located in a parking lot? If so, a BDS permit is required.

Only an owner of the property, or the owner’s designee, may apply for a Tree Removal and Replanting Permit. There is a $35 non-refundable processing fee for submitting a Tree Removal and Replanting Permit Application. Checks should be addressed to City of Portland. Cash, credit and debit cards are also accepted if the application is submitted in person at the Development Services Center.

If the tree in question is an emergency hazard, there are several factors to consider. Generally, an immediate tree hazard is when a tree suddenly starts uprooting (cracks appear in the soil) or a tree suddenly starts splitting (fresh, white sapwood is visible in tree cracks) where the main branches connect to the trunk. Dead trees are generally not immediate hazards. If a large branch falls off of a tree, it may be considered a pruning emergency, but if the rest of the tree is still standing solidly, it is not considered a tree removal emergency.

If it’s a street tree, call Urban Forestry at 503-823-TREE (8733). Emergency dispatchers are available 24/7. An Urban Forestry Tree Inspector will be dispatched to the site right away to remove the hazard and issue an emergency permit for the pruning or removal of the hazardous tree. A street tree is any tree that is growing in the City right-of-way, whether in improved (between the sidewalk and the curb) or unimproved (no sidewalk and/or curb) right-of-way.

On private property, If a tree is an immediate hazard, the tree may be removed or the hazardous portion pruned before obtaining a permit in order to eliminate a clear and present danger to structures or people. This provision exists to protect human life and property from imminent tree failures where there is not enough time to obtain a tree permit through the normal process.

Anyone who removes a regulated tree on an emergency basis is required to apply for a retroactive Tree Removal and Replanting Permit within 7 days of removing the tree. The application fee is still required. Photographs or other documentation (such as a report by a certified, practicing arborist) must be included in the application packet to prove that an emergency existed.

Removed trees must be replaced, a tree for a tree, and in the case of trees 20″ diameter or larger, up to an inch for an inch. The minimum diameter of replacement trees on private property is 1.5″.  Multi-family properties and other developments have 2″ & 2.5″ inch minimums respectively.  All conifer trees (fir trees) must be at least 5 feet tall at the times of planting.

If you still need help determining whether you need a permit to remove trees on private property, call Urban Forestry at 503-823-TREE (8733) or email trees@portlandoregon.gov.

Those who have proceeded with tree removal in Portland, Oregon without knowing permitting rules have paid the consequences in many cases. Such was the case for Preston Tree Service who pruned trees without a permit at an office building near the western terminus of the Ross Island Bridge. They were fined more than $7,000 per tree; quite the hefty price to pay.

If you’re looking to have service done on some trees, do it the right way and the legal way, or you could potentially pay a hefty fine. For more information on tree removal in Portland, Oregon, click here.