Tree Protection

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Trees in Chapel HillTree Protection

Chapel Hill contains a diversity and abundance of trees. Our residents have had a long love affair with trees dating back to 1889, when cutting down a tree in town was punishable as a misdemeanor and carried a $20 fine.

Arbor Day Celebrations | Tree City USA | Tree Protection | When Trees are Removed

Arbor Day Celebrations

Arbor Day was set by the Chapel Hill Town Council in 2000 as the first Friday after Nov. 15.

(Nov. 18, 2016) Mayor Pam Hemminger reads a proclamation
to a second-grade class from Scroggs Elementary School.

Each year the Town celebrates trees at its Arbor Day ceremony by planting one or more trees at a Town-owned facility such as a park or entryway. Its recognition as being a Tree City USA is presented from the North Carolina Forest Service’s Orange County Office.


The first Arbor Day in the United States took place in April 1872 in Nebraska where it is said that an estimated one million trees were planted. Each state now chooses its own date on which to observe the holiday. North Carolina celebrates on the first Friday following March 15, but Chapel Hill doesn’t follow the rest of the state.

Tree City USA

To be named a Tree City, a town or city must meet four core standards set by the National Arbor Day Foundation: maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry and celebrating Arbor Day.

Tree Protection

The Tree Protection Ordinance is part of a continued commitment to sustainability with the potential to reduce carbon emissions and decrease the urban “heat-island” effect. The Town Council adopted a Tree Protection Ordinance that identified tree canopy as a resource to be considered during development applications in Chapel Hill. The ordinance calls for a balanced approach to protecting trees without over regulation of residential properties and property owners.

To access the Tree Protection Ordinance, see Appendix A, Article 5.7 in of the Chapel Hill Code of Ordinances
Tree Protection Ordinance

Two support documents that assist with measuring and calculating tree canopy:

Contact Us

Information: or (919) 968-2728

When Trees are Removed

The Town reviews proposals for tree removal work closely. Whether it is a tree that is declining and posing a public safety hazard on a Town-maintained street or a utility easement, sometimes this type of tree work is necessary. Town trees are protected by Town ordinance and are only removed after careful review.  

The Town of Chapel Hill will begin multiple tree replacements this winter with the focus on community safety. The trees to be replaced include:

  • A tree on Cameron Avenue near S. Columbia Street is in serious decline with root decay.
  • A large tree in a median island of N. Boundary Street. This tree has lost successive limbs in recent storms.
  • A willow oak on E. Rosemary Street near Henderson Street. This tree was found to have large, long vertical cracks and the integrity of the trunk of has been significantly compromised by repeated weather events.
  • An elm tree on the corner of E. Franklin Street and Pickard Lane. The elm was found to have a large cavity by using ultrasound diagnostics.
  • A willow oak at the entrance to the Chapel of the Cross on E. Franklin Street. The arborist has determined that the tree’s health is in decline.
  • A willow oak tree west of the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center entrance on East Franklin Street. The arborist has determined that the tree’s health is in decline.


Replacement trees will be of species native to North Carolina. They will be planted in the fall, giving them the greatest chance to thrive. 


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