Senate bill would keep municipal tree police focused on neighborhoods

Casperson legislation curbs local abuse of tree ordinances

LANSING, Mich. — State Sen. Tom Casperson recently introduced legislation that would protect Michigan property owners from municipal overreach on private property.

Senate Bill 1188 would bar local governments from enacting or enforcing local tree removal laws in any area that is not zoned residential.

Dozens of communities around Michigan have enacted local laws requiring residents and businesses to obtain permission before removing trees from their property and paying into a so-called “tree fund” or replacing a tree if they choose to cut one down.

“These laws were sold to the public as a way to encourage tree-lined neighborhoods and to protect big, old trees that are community landmarks,” said Casperson, R-Escanaba. “However, these ordinances are often written loosely enough to allow for abuse. Nobody is arguing the value of tree-lined neighborhood streets, but in some communities, the ‘tree police’ use these ordinances to harass property owners and fill local coffers.

“Michigan business and property owners need reasonable legal protection, and this bill offers a narrowly tailored approach to support trees while curbing abuse.”

The Vegetation Removal Preemption Act keeps local tree removal ordinances focused on true “heritage” trees and residential areas but allows property owners to make their own decisions about trees in areas zoned for agricultural, industrial, business and commercial use.

The bill also provides protections and clearer definitions for how big a tree must be to be considered a heritage tree.

“When people buy a parcel of land, part of the value — what they pay for — includes any trees on that land,” Casperson said. “The idea that if you decide to cut a tree on land you own you have to pay for it again — to the local government, no less — is preposterous. It’s unfair, and it potentially raises a legal question.”

SB 1188 has been referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee for consideration.