Can You Remove Trees on Your Property?

You might need a permit or other approval before cutting down a tree on your property because certain trees are protected in Salem. Salem Revised Code (SRC) Chapter 808 outlines requirements for tree conservation and removal in Salem.

Generally, a tree is any living, woody plant that grows to 15 feet tall or more, typically has a trunk that is 10 inches or more wide when measured at a height of 4.5 feet, and has an upright arrangement of branches and leaves.

Step 1: Determine if your tree is protected

You need a permit or other approval before cutting down the following types of trees on your property:

Significant trees

Oregon White Oaks are at least 24 inches wide at a height of 4.5 feet are significant trees. Leaves on Oregon White Oaks have rounded, fingerlike lobes rather than the pointed lobes you would find on Red Oaks.

​You can only take down an Oregon White Oak under one of the following circumstances:
  • You get a tree and vegetation removal permit
  • You get a tree variance (call and talk to a Planner)
  • The tree is scheduled for removal in a Tree Conservation Plan

Trees in a riparian corridor

Generally, the land that is 50 feet on each side of a waterway, such as a creek, is a riparian corridor. Dead or dying trees that are not hazardous are considered trees in riparian corridors. If, with approval, you cut down a tree in a riparian corridor, you must leave the roots, trunks, and branches in that corridor unless the Public Works Director determines that they are potential hazards or impede the flow of the stream.

You cannot remove trees or native vegetation in a riparian corridor unless you get one of the following:

  • A tree and vegetation removal permit
  • A tree variance (call and talk to a Planner)
  • The tree is scheduled for removal in a Tree Conservation Plan

Trees on lots over 20,000 square feet

On lots that are more than 20,000 square feet, you can only cut down up to five trees or 15 percent of the trees on the property, whichever is greater, in a single calendar year prior to development.

If you want to remove more than that, you must get one of the following:

  • A tree and vegetation removal permit
  • A tree variance (call and talk to a Planner)

If you are developing your property, you can take down more than that by getting a Tree Conservation Plan approved as part of your residential development proposal.

Heritage trees

The City Council designates trees as Heritage Trees in recognition of their location, size, age, botanical interest, or historic or cultural significance after a property owner nominates them. To remove a heritage tree, you must do both of the following:

  • Have a certified arborist determine that the heritage tree is hazardous and
  • Have the City Planning Administrator verify the arborist’s determination

Trees preserved in Tree Conservation Plans

A Tree Conservation Plan is required when a developer wants to create lots to construct single-family or two-family homes and that proposal includes taking down trees. The Tree Conservation Plan designates which trees can be removed and which ones must remain. You cannot cut down a tree that has been designated to remain on your property until a house has been constructed and occupied.

If you want to take down a tree before your house is completed, call and talk to a Planner about applying for a Tree Conservation Plan Adjustment.

Exceptions

Salem Revised Code (SRC) Chapter 808 describes the exceptions which allow you to cut down significant trees, trees in a riparian corridor, and trees on lots over 20,000 square feet without a permit or approval.

Step 2: Determine if you meet permit requirements

If you want to take down a protected tree through a tree removal permit, determine if you meet one of the following criteria [SRC 808.030(d)]:

  • Hazardous tree: The tree’s location or condition is hazardous, and you cannot address the hazard by pruning or treating the tree. As an alternative, the tree has a disease that is likely to spread to other trees despite pruning or treatment.

  • Repair or replacement of structures: You need to remove a tree to repair, alter, or replace a structure that has existed since June 21, 2000. In addition, you are not enlarging the footprint of that structure, and you are not disturbing more of the riparian corridor than necessary.

  • Water dependent activities: You need to remove the tree to develop a water-dependent activity, and you are not disturbing more of the riparian corridor than necessary. A water-dependent activity requires access to a waterway for water-borne transportation, recreation, energy production, or source of water.

  • Restoration activities: You need to remove a tree or native vegetation as part of your work to restore and improve the habitat, hydrology, or water quality of the riparian corridor.

Step 3: Apply for a tree removal permit

If you meet the criteria for a permit, apply for a tree removal permit by bringing the following to the Permit Application Center Planning Desk:

  • Application form for a tree-removal permit.

  • Site plan: Identify which trees you propose to preserve and remove. Include the tree sizes as well as the location of existing buildings and waterways.

  • Written statement and/or arborist report: Describe how your proposal to cut down trees meets the tree removal criteria.

  • Additional items: Submit photos or any other information that might help your application. If you are taking down trees as part of restoration activity in a riparian corridor, you must include additional items such as a delineation of the riparian corridor boundaries. You can find the full list of requirements in SRC Chapter 808.

  • Payment for the permit fee.

Step 4: Application review

Planning staff will review your tree removal permit application to determine if the criteria have been met. You will receive the decision on your permit application in the mail. You cannot appeal the decision.

 Related documents

  
  
  
Tree Conservation Plan Adjustment Application5/8/201780 KB
Tree Conservation Plan Application5/8/201775 KB
Tree Removal Permit Application5/8/201770 KB
Tree Vegetation Technical Manual5/8/201748 KB

Contact us

Permit Application Center Planning Desk
Monday–Friday
8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
555 Liberty ST SE RM 320
Salem OR 97301
Mailing address:
555 Liberty ST SE RM 305
Salem OR 97301
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