The principal law that governs and guides tree wardens is Chapter 87: Shade Trees of the Massachusetts General Laws.

On January 5, 2011, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law the addition of Section 14 to Chapter 87.
This new section was formulated to help utility companies and tree wardens manage tree maintenance and removal work under the wires. The law allows the utility company the option to submit to the tree warden an annual tree management and hazard tree removal plan. This section was added for two main reasons: to create better lines of communication between electric utilities and tree wardens, and to streamline the approval process as outlined in Sections 3 and 5. The Massachusetts Tree Wardens’ and Foresters’ Association cooperated with legislators and the electric utility companies to craft the language of Section 14. Efforts to revise Chapter 87 further are continuing with the proposal of updates to older sections in an attempt to bring the law current with the times.

Qualifications of tree wardens are a matter of ongoing discussion. The current law that applies is Chapter 41 Section 106.
The law’s confusing language, added in 1996, requires that tree wardens in towns over 10,000 population be “licensed by the Department of Food and Agriculture” (meaning a pesticide license). The pesticide license in no way certifies a person to be “qualified by training and experience in the field of arboriculture” as Section 106 requires. This confusion led to a 1999 effort by a consortium of arboriculture experts to assemble recommended qualifications for tree wardens based on population served.

Public trees located on a designated scenic road are subject to the provisions of Chapter 40 Section 15C.

For a complete set of all laws pertaining to trees and tree wardens in Massachusetts, please refer to the Tree Wardens Handbook, 8th Edition.

Julie Steiner, J.D., has published “Guardians of Municipal Public Trees:  Commonwealth of Massachusetts Tree Wardens’ Authority and Accountability,” 38 W. NEW ENG. L. REV. 377 (2016). The scholarly article is both a great addition to the tree warden archives and an excellent supporting case to update the Chapter 87 law to meet present needs. Read the article here.  You can also view it online in the Western New England Law Review Journal  at  Dr. Steiner has twice been a part of the Chapter 87 panel at our annual conference.