Just the facts about…..The Tree Canopy Law

Image of leaves changing color.
August 27, 2013
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On July 30th, County Executive Isiah Leggett signed the Tree Canopy Bill into law. This law will establish new trees across the County to help ensure a better future for the County’s residents and environment.  We’ve collected here a list of the most common questions asked about the Tree Canopy Law.

What is the Tree Canopy Law?

The Tree Canopy Law requires property owners to plant new trees during development. Planting trees helps offset the impacts of development on the natural environment.


When does the law take effect?

The law goes into effect March 1st, 2014.
Image of a tree being prepared for planting next to a building.



Does removing a tree on my property count as development?

For the Tree Canopy Law, development is when a property owner is required to get a sediment control permit in order to complete the work they are planning for their property. When development on a property is enough to require a sediment control permit, then the property owner has to abide by the Tree Canopy Law.

Most small tree projects on residential properties, like removing one or two trees, or trimming trees, do not require sediment control permits, and therefore, are not a part of this law.


What activities require a sediment control permit and need to follow the Tree Canopy Law?

The Tree Canopy Law applies to any project that requires a sediment control permit.  This includes:

  • projects that disturb more than 5,000 square feet of land including cutting trees;
  • any new primary residential or commercial building; or
  • projects that include 100 cubic yards or more of earth movement on or off the property.

These requirements were not changed by the Tree Canopy Law.


Do I have to plant trees if I want to …..remove a hazardous tree? ….build a swimming pool? ….build a deck, garden or playground?

No. Unless a sediment control permit is required, you are not bound by this law. The Tree Canopy Law does not apply when hazardous trees are removed, or to build most decks or gardens. However, many swimming pools do require a sediment control permit and would be included in the law.


Graphic of a property before development in the forested area began.

Property before construction.   Sometimes trees are removed to build bigger houses, driveways, pools, and tennis courts.


Why do we need to replace the trees?

Trees contribute to the economic and social vitality of every community. They clean the air and water, reduce the cost of cooling and heating homes and businesses, increase biodiversity and increase our general sense of well-being. There is a wide array of benefits from trees and tree canopy.


Graphic of a property after backyard development.  Most of the trees were lost.

Property after construction (no new trees planted). The new canopy law will plant trees to replace some of what’s lost.

If I can’t, or simply don’t want to plant the trees, what is the fee for each tree?

The Tree Canopy Law sets the fee at the current rate set by the Department of Permitting Services for bonding a tree in the right-of-way. As of September 2013, the rate is $250.00 per tree.


How will the fees be used to plant trees?

Fees collected from the Tree Canopy Law will be used to establish new trees as close to the disturbed area as possible. The Tree Canopy Law limits the use of the fees to only planting trees. County staff cannot be hired with the funds nor can other tree budgets be supplanted by these funds. The intention is to add to existing resources.


What about farm land? Will farmers have to pay fees?

No, most agricultural activities do not require a sediment control permit and therefore, the Tree Canopy Law does not apply. A few activities on farms, such as building a new house, do require a sediment control permit and are subject to the Tree Canopy Law.


Image of County Executive Isiah Leggett signed the  Tree Canopy Bill into law.

County Executive Isiah Leggett signed the Tree Canopy Bill into law.



Where do you get a sediment control permit?

Sediment control permits are processed through the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services. The Tree Canopy Law will be handled along with the sediment control permit.


How is the Tree Canopy Law Different from the Forest Conservation Law?

The Forest Conservation Law (FCL) generally applies to properties over 40,000 square feet when a sediment control permit is required or when subdivision occurs. Both laws require mitigation for disturbance to environmental resources but they apply to different types of activities. The Tree Canopy Law does not apply to any activity that requires mitigation under the Forest Conservation Law (FCL). Some activities are exempt from mitigation under the FCL. In this case, both laws apply but mitigation is only required under the Tree Canopy Law.

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