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Frequently Asked Questions for the Landmark Tree Program

What is the difference between a significant tree and a landmark tree?
A significant tree is an automatically protected tree that is on private property, with any portion of its trunk within ten feet of a public right-of-way. Significant trees also need to meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Height greater than 20 feet
  • Canopy width greater than 15 feet
  • Trunk diameter at breast height greater than 12 inches

Any tree within 10 feet of the public right-of-way, which also meets at least one of the size criteria listed above, is considered a “significant tree” and is automatically granted the same protections as trees in the public right-of-way. San Francisco Public Works may apply administrative fines or fees for removal or improper pruning of these trees.

Landmark trees have undergone extensive assessment by the Urban Forestry Council, based on a set of specific criteria (see Nomination Form and Process Flowchart for more information). A tree must be designated by the Board of Supervisors to become a landmark tree.

Both landmark and significant trees need to be cared for according to the city’s Adopted Pruning Standards and both need a permit from San Francisco Public Works in order to be removed.


What trees are eligible for landmark status?
Any tree within the City and County of San Francisco can be nominated for landmark tree status.


Who can nominate a tree for landmark status?
Landmark trees may be nominated by five sources:

  • The property owner
  • The Board of Supervisors (through resolution)
  • The Historic Preservation Commission (through resolution)
  • The Planning Commission (through resolution)
  • San Francisco city agency or department heads

A member of the public may approach a property owner, any member of the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission, any member of the Historic Preservation Commission, or the head of a City department or agency about nominating a tree.


Why would someone nominate a tree for landmark status?
Trees provide environmental, social and economic benefits for everyone. While nominations are submitted for different reasons, generally nominations are made because the tree has made a substantial beneficial impact, which was then recognized by the nomination source.  We hope our program will encourage deeper appreciation of San Francisco’s trees, especially those of unusual size, historic or cultural significance, that provide critical habitat, and other ecological benefits or have other unique characteristics.


Can I nominate a tree in my backyard if the trunk straddles the property line with my neighbor? 
Yes, but only if the other property owner co-nominates the tree. Under California Civil Code Sections 833 and 834, tree ownership is defined by where a tree trunk stands. For the purposes of Public Works Code Section 810(b) regarding nominations of trees for landmark status, a property "contains" a tree if its trunk is within the property line, regardless of where its roots or branches may extend.  If a tree trunk  is wholly on the land of one owner, then the tree belongs exclusively to that owner, and the owner's property "contains" the tree; if it straddles the properties of two owners, then it belongs to them in common, and both properties "contain" the tree for purposes of tree nomination . If your tree trunk (not roots or branches) breaks the soil surface on both sides of the line, then co-nomination is required.


Who decides whether or not a tree will get landmark status?
The Urban Forestry Council will evaluate nominated trees. The Council will then give their recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for final determination. The Urban Forestry Council reviews landmark tree nominations at their public meetings.


What happens if a landmark tree is on a development or construction site?
There is a policy to protect a landmark tree in this situation. The Planning Department requires that people disclose any landmark trees on their property before a development or construction project begins. In addition, there are practical and straightforward techniques that must be used to protect a landmark tree. The Department of Building Inspection (DBI) and San Francisco Public Works (SFPW) will help implement this policy.


How many trees will this ordinance protect?
It depends on how many trees are nominated and their characteristics! We expect that the number of landmark trees will increase over time and plateau once the outstanding trees in San Francisco have been added.


What happens if someone harms a landmark tree or cuts down a landmark tree without a permit?
There are serious criminal, civil and administrative penalties if someone harms a landmark tree or removes a landmark tree without a permit. The criminal penalties include monetary fines and jail time. The civil and administrative penalties are monetary fines. For more detailed information, please read Public Works Code, Article 16.

Related Content

Landmark Tree Program Management
Landmark Tree Policy
List of Landmarked Trees
Landmark Trees of San Francisco
Penalties of Violation for the Landmark Tree Code

Additional Resources

Landmark Tree Program - San Francisco Public Works

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