Protecting Washington D.C. Heritage Trees – Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act of 2016

Update, June 2019: WSSI worked with City Ridge developers to move two Heritage and one Special oaks at 3900 Wisconsin Ave. Read more in our June 2019 Field Notes!

Developers and design teams working in the Nation’s Capital are noticing stronger enforcement of the Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act (D.C. Act 21-386), which the Council of the District of Columbia passed in 2016 to ensure that mature trees within the District are preserved.  If you are developing one of these sites, Wetland Studies and Solutions’ Urban Foresters can help you avoid violations and fines by determining if trees are subject to D.C. Act 21-386 and working with your design team to integrate tree protection and preservation into your development plans.

This 2016 amendment to the Urban Forestry Preservation Act of 2002 established firm criteria for applying the Special Tree or Heritage Tree designations and defined the associated permit conditions and violation fees.
– Special Tree – a tree with a circumference from 44 inches to 99.9 inches
– Heritage Tree – a tree with a circumference of 100 inches or more

Without a Heritage Tree Permit, it is unlawful to top, cut down, remove, girdle, break, or destroy any Heritage Tree – with a fine of $300 per inch circumference for violations.  Similarly, there is a fine of $300 per inch circumference for removing any Special Tree without a permit. 

Special Trees and Heritage Trees are located all over the city – from the front yards of row homes slated for renovation to sites designated for major commercial development.  Regardless of the location, compliance with D.C. Act 21-386 often requires some creative problem solving that begins during design.

We work with your design team to assess the trees on your site, develop appropriate plans for protecting and preserving trees, and provide oversight during the construction process.  In some cases, we implement innovative protection measures to preserve a Heritage Tree and reduce the stress that often accompanies construction and development.  In other cases, we relocate and replant a Heritage Tree on site using state-of-the-art equipment and methods.

If you would like more information about the regulations that define and protect Special and Heritage Trees in Washington, D.C. or have any questions about trees on your project site within the District, please contact us.

About D.C. Act 21-386 – Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act of 2016

D.C. Act 21-386 was enacted on May 4, 2016, and amends the Urban Forestry Preservation Act of 2002 with the following regulations:

Special Trees – circumference of 44 to 99.9 inches

  • Decreases the size of a Special Tree to 44 inches circumference (14 inches DBH).
  • Increases permit fees for Special Tree removal to $55 per inch circumference.
  • Increases the fine for unlawful removal of a Special Tree to $300 per inch circumference.

Heritage Trees – circumference of 100 inches or more

  • Mandates protection of Heritage Trees with a circumference of 100 inches or more (31.8 inches DBH).
  • Allows the Mayor to issue a permit for removal of a designated Heritage Tree if the tree is hazardous or of a species that has been identified by regulation as appropriate for removal – such as Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), Mulberry (Morus), and Norway Maple (Acer platanoides).
  • Allows a Heritage Tree to be relocated and replanted with an approved Heritage Tree Preservation Plan that includes one-year root ball conditioning after root pruning, soil amending, irrigation, and other stress reduction measures, and survival of the replanted Heritage Tree for a period not less than three full years.
  • Implements a fine of $300 per circumference for violating any Heritage Tree protections or any condition of a Heritage Tree Removal Permit


  • Cene Ketcham

    Millersville, MD

  • Cary Hulse

    Gainesville, VA