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Aerial Shot of Mid-Cambridge in the Fall

Apply for a Tree Removal Permit

Public Works

Tree Removal Permits

Cambridge values its urban forest. It takes effort and engagement from everyone to grow a resilient and healthy urban forest. Community members and the City share the responsibility of growing and maintaining the urban forest. Homeowners can do their part by maintaining the trees on their property and if possible, planting new trees when space is available. Healthy trees benefit homeowners and the community by lowering energy costs, managing stormwater, reducing pollution, and increasing property value. The Urban Forest Master Plan identified that most canopy loss happens on private property so it is vital for property owners to maintain their trees. The Tree Protection Ordinance applies to trees that can no longer be maintained for a variety of reasons.

Overview of the Tree Protection Ordinance (TPO)

For any Significant Tree removal, a tree removal permit is required and subject to the rules and regulations set forth in the City of Cambridge Tree Protection Ordinance (TPO), Title 8, Chapter 8.66, of the City’s Municipal Code. Permits are applied for online here.

A Significant Tree is any tree on a Lot that has a diameter of 6 inches or greater at 4.5 feet above the ground.

An Exceptional Tree is any tree on a Lot that has a diameter of 30 inches or greater. Exceptional Trees are valued at 1.5 times their diameter to reflect the greater ecosystem services these large trees provide to the urban forest. Exceptional Trees often require additional documentation for their tree removal permits.

Significant and Exceptional Trees that meet the requirements of one of the special circumstances under the TPO do not require mitigation to obtain a tree removal permit. The most common special circumstances include:

  • the tree 100% dead, acredes assessed by a Certified Arborist,
  • the tree is dangerous, as assessed by a Certified Arborist,
  • emergency circumstances (such as the tree has uprooted and is in danger of falling onto people or property),
  • the tree poses significant negative impacts on an existing structure,
  • removing the tree would benefit other existing Significant Trees on the property.

Tree Removal Application Process

Tree removal applications are submitted online. The applicant is responsible for verifying all information submitted on the application. Incomplete applications will not be processed, and tree removal permits will not be issued until all required documentation is provided.

Photos of the tree or trees to be removed are required for all tree removal applications. Please include:

  • A photo clearly showing the entire tree including its crown.
  • A photo showing the diameter or circumference measurement in inches of the tree at 4.5 feet up the tree.

Below are the requirements for the most common categories of tree removal applications. Blank copies of required forms are available in the Useful Documents & Resources section of this webpage.

  • Tree is dead.
    • Photos of the tree
      • Photo showing entire tree including crown.
      • Photo showing the diameter/circumference measurement at 4.5 feet.
      • Photo(s) showing the area(s) on the dead tree where the dead condition can be observed.
    • Form A completed by a Certified Arborist.

  • Tree is dangerous.
    • Photos of the tree
      • Photo showing entire tree including crown.
      • Photo showing the diameter/circumference measurement at 4.5 feet.
      • Photo(s) showing the area(s) on the dangerous tree where the dangerous condition(s) can be observed.
    • Form A completed by a Certified Arborist.
    • ISA Basic Tree Risk Assessment Form completed by a Certified Arborist.

Please see to the Tree Protection Ordinance Regulations for a complete list of the special circumstances and their required documentation.

Property owners may submit tree removal applications for their property. Most tree removal applications will require that the property owner hire a Certified Arborist to assess the tree. The City Arborist and other Urban Forestry staff cannot serve as Certified Arborists for private tree removals. Reputable Certified Arborists can be found, and their credentials verified, via the Massachusetts Arborists Association and/or the International Society of Arboriculture:

Massachusetts Arborists Association: https://massarbor.org/directory.php

International Society of Arboriculture: https://www.treesaregood.org/

If part of the tree trunk to be removed is located on a property line, please provide a letter of approval from the neighboring property owner with the tree removal application.

Mitigation Requirements

If your tree meets the requirements of one of the special circumstances under the TPO, mitigation is not required to obtain a tree removal permit. Please refer to the TPO Regulations for the full list of required documents for each special circumstance.

If your tree does not meet the requirements of any special circumstance under the TPO, mitigation is required to obtain a tree removal permit.

Mitigation may be fulfilled by planting Replacement Trees on the property, payment to the City’s Tree Replacement Fund, or a combination of planting and payment.

Payment to Tree Replacement Fund:


If you wish to fulfil mitigation through payment into the Tree Replacement Fund, the current cost is $850 per inch diameter at 4.5 feet. Properties with Residential Exemption pay 10% or $85 per inch diameter at 4.5 feet.

The mitigation cost is based on the cost per inch to plant a new tree under the City’s most recent tree planting and maintenance contract inclusive of purchasing, planting, watering, and maintaining trees for a period of 5 years.

To obtain a tree removal permit by paying a mitigation payment, please submit a tree removal application online.

Mitigation payments can be completed in person, by mail, or online after the tree removal application has been submitted. Checks can be mailed or dropped off at the Public Works main office at 147 Hampshire St. Please make checks out to “The City of Cambridge” and include the tree removal application number in the memo line. Online payments are completed through the tree removal application in OpenGov. Payments completed online are subject to convenience fees.

Plant Replacement Trees:

Planting Replacement Trees on the property can significantly reduce or eliminate the mitigation payment. To obtain a tree removal permit by planting Replacement Trees, please submit a tree removal application online.

Replacement Trees are identified as Replacement Trees for a period of 10 years after they are planted. A tree removal permit is required to remove any Replacement Tree, regardless of its size.

The species, size, and source of the Replacement Tree are selected by the property owner. Species of shrubs or trees planted as a privacy hedge/screen such as arborvitae may not be used to fulfill mitigation requirements. Please see the City’s tree planting list for species recommended by the Urban Forestry Division. Most property owners opt to plant 2” caliper Replacement Trees, though applications for smaller and larger Replacement Trees are acceptable.

When submitting a tree removal application that includes planting of Replacement Trees please include:

  1. Quantity, size, species, and location information of Replacement Tree(s).
  2. Anticipated planting date.
  3. Photo, map, or plan showing the planting location(s). This does not need to be a formal landscape plan.
  4. A  5 year care and maintenance plan. The City has provided a default care and maintenance plan here.

All Significant Tree documentation and Replacement Tree documentation and/or mitigation payment must be submitted before a tree removal permit can be issued.

A photo of the Replacement Tree(s) is required after the tree is planted. Tree removal permits will not be closed until the required photos are uploaded to the tree removal permit in OpenGov. The applicant is responsible for providing photos of the Replacement Tree(s) after it is planted.

Planting and Payment

To calculate the remaining mitigation payment after planting Replacement Trees, subtract the size (caliper) of the Replacement Tree from the diameter of the Significant Tree, divide by two, and multiply by the mitigation cost. If there are more Replacement Trees than trees to be removed, the additional Replacement Trees are subtracted from the mitigation payment.

Please see below for examples of how the mitigation cost is affected by the size of trees to be removed and different quantities of Replacement Trees.

Calculating Tree Removal Mitigation

The formula for calculating a mitigation payment is as follows:
Mitigation Payment = [[(diameter in inches of Significant Tree – diameter in inches of Replacement Tree)/2] – diameter of any additional Replacement Trees] x $850

 

Calculating Tree Removal Mitigation

Remove a 6 inch tree and plant 0 Replacement Trees

 Mitigation Payment = 6” tree x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = $5,100 

Mitigation Payment with Residential Exemption = $510 

Remove 6 inch and 10 inch trees and plant two 2 inch Replacement Trees

 Mitigation Payment = [[(6” tree – 2” Replacement Tree)/2] + [(10” tree – 2” Replacement Tree)/2]] x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = [(4”/2) + (8”/2)] x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = (2” + 4”) x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = 6” x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = $5,100 

Mitigation Payment with Residential Exemption = $510  

Remove a 6 inch tree and plant one 2 inch Replacement Tree

 Mitigation Payment = [(6” tree – 2” Replacement Tree)/2] x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = [4”/2] x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = 2” x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = $1,700 

Mitigation Payment with Residential Exemption = $170 

Remove a 6 inch tree and plant two 2 inch Replacement Trees

Mitigation Payment = [[(6” tree – 2” Replacement Tree)/2] – 2” additional Replacement Tree] x $850/inch

Mitigation Payment = [(4”/2) – 2” additional Replacement Tree] x $850/inch

Mitigation Payment = (2” – 2”) x $850/inch

Mitigation Payment = $0

Mitigation Payment with Residential Exemption = $0  

Remove 6 inch and 10 inch trees and plant one 2 inch Replacement Tree

Mitigation Payment = [[(6” tree – 2” Replacement Tree)/2] + 10” tree] x $850/inch

Mitigation Payment = [(4”/2) + 10”] x $850/inch

Mitigation Payment = (2” +10”) x $850/inch

Mitigation Payment = 12” x $850/inch

Mitigation Payment = $10,200

Mitigation Payment with Residential Exemption = $1,020  

Remove 32 inch tree and plant 0 Replacement Trees

Mitigation Payment = (32” x 1.5 Exceptional Tree multiplier) x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = 48” x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = $40,800 

Mitigation Payment with Residential Exemption = $4,080 

Remove 32 inch tree and plant four 2 inch Replacement Trees

 Mitigation Payment = [[[(32” x 1.5 Exceptional Tree multiplier) – 2” Replacement Tree]/2] – 6” additional Replacement Trees] x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = [[(48" – 2" Replacement Tree]/2] – 6” additional Replacement Trees] x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = [[(46”/2) – 6” additional Replacement Trees] x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = (23” – 6”) x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = 17” x $850/inch 

Mitigation Payment = $14,450 

Mitigation Payment with Residential Exemption = $1,445 

Tips and FAQs

Do I need a removal permit for a Large Project or special permit project?

For mitigation requirements associated with Large Projects, or any project which requires a special permit under §§ 4.26.l - 4.26.3, §19.20, §11.12.1, §11.12.2, or §11.12.3 of the Zoning Ordinance, please refer to the complete Tree Protection Ordinance language.

Page was last modified on 5/7/2024 6:10 PM
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