Street Tree Pruning

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Pruning of trees within the Right-of-Way (ROW) requires a no-fee Right-of-Way Tree permit. All tree pruning work performed within the ROW shall be in compliance with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A300 and Z133.1 and comply with Tacoma Municipal Code (TMC) 9.20 Urban Forestry and 13.06.090.B, as well as the standards in the Urban Forestry Manual (UFM).

Pruning is defined as the removal of plant parts, dead or alive, in a systematic manner as to not damage other parts of the plant. Pruning is most often performed for the purposes of improving plant health, structure, aesthetics or safety of the vegetation.

A Right-of-Way Tree permit may be granted if the adjacent property owner, or the owner’s authorized agent, can sufficiently demonstrate 1) the objective for pruning, 2) that the proposed pruning meets one of the ANSI A300 objectives and BMPs and, 3) that implementing the pruning described in the proposed pruning plan will not result in a significant negative impact to each street tree’s continued health. A permit will not be granted for unapproved pruning activities or those that are inconsistent with ANSI A300 standards, including but not limited to tree topping or removal of greater than 25 percent of the tree’s live crown.

Preapproved Objectives for Pruning:

  • Removal of dead, significantly damaged or diseased tree parts.
  • Pruning to maintain required tree clearances (crown raising) over sidewalks (8 feet) and roadways (14 feet).
  • Improving tree structure or pruning for tree health.
  • Pruning for clearance to utilities, signage, or streetlights.

Types of Pruning
Pruning shall be done to accomplish a specific objective, identified above. To meet the objective(s) identified for a tree, one or more of the following types of pruning may be permitted, and should be included on the application:

  • Young tree pruning to develop good structure, including a strong and well established central leader, strong branch attachments, and adequate spacing and distribution of scaffold branches. Young tree pruning will need to occur on an ongoing basis over the first ten years after tree planting.
  • Crown cleaning is the removal of water sprouts and dead, dying, diseased, crowded, weakly attached and low vigor branches from a tree’s crown.
  • Crown raising removes the lower branches of a tree in order to provide clearance for vehicles, pedestrians, and buildings. Clearance standards are 8 feet above the full width of the sidewalk and 14 feet above the full width of streets and alleys.
  • Crown restoration to improve the structure, form and appearance of trees that have sprouted vigorously after being broken, topped, or severely pruned using heading cuts. Crown restoration may require several pruning sessions over a number of years as new dominant branches take time to form.

Additional specific activities may also be allowed and will be specifically noted on the permit. If not included on the permit, the activity is not allowed. Additional activities may include:

  • Weight reduction: To reduce the likelihood of limb or trunk failure, proper pruning cuts at the end of limbs are used to reduce the weight of a limb. Tipping cuts are not allowed.
  • Clear infrastructure: Pruning to clear street light poles, buildings, stop signs, and other infrastructure.
  • Remove defective part: Pruning to remove broken, diseased, defective, or dead material.

Pruning Cuts

  • The three-cut approach to pruning shall be used to prevent tearing of the bark and vascular tissue.
  • Branches shall be pruned at the branch collar or a lateral branch. Cutting flush to a branch or the trunk, pruning between nodes and leaving branch stubs is not permitted.
  • Lion-tailing and Tree Topping is prohibited.

Traffic Control
Traffic Control Plans are needed for activities in or near the ROW where equipment, materials, or people entering or using the street and sidewalk areas could create safety hazards or traffic congestion. Traffic Control Plans must be submitted with the Tree Work in the ROW Permit and must comply with the City of Tacoma Traffic Control Handbook. The property owner or tree care provider must provide appropriate traffic control during all regulated tree work operations.

WA State Department of Natural Resources

Application Checklist for Street Tree Pruning Permit:

Site Information

1.     Site plan (sketch or drawing) with location(s) of existing trees

2.     Photograph(s) of the tree(s)

3.     Description of each street tree to be pruned with sufficient detail to accurately identify each street tree that is the subject of the application

Proposed Tree Pruning Plan:

1.     Detailed plan and purpose for pruning each street tree that is the subject of the proposed permit, certified by applicant or a certified arborist (Arborist Report) on behalf of the applicant, that the plan meets ANSI A300 Standards

2.     A statement that implementing the pruning described in the proposed pruning plan will not result in a significant negative impact to each street tree’s continued health.

3.       A statement that the proposed pruning plan meets BMPs consistent with this Tip Sheet.

4.     The approximate percentage of the tree’s crown proposed to be removed.

5.     Certification by the applicant to meet requirements of all necessary traffic control measures of the City of Tacoma Traffic Control Handbook, as applicable.


The City of Tacoma Municipal Code regulating tree and shrub pruning and removal is here. Failure to obtain a permit or meet the conditions of the permit may result in a violation and shall be subject to the penalties defined in TMC 9.20.520 (B), including fines of up to $10,000 per violation.

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