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Tree Protection Code

What Is It?

Our Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) limits the number and the size of trees that may be removed from your property. We also have restrictions on when you can remove shrubs and other vegetation.

Our tree codes have a wide range of limits, based on the specific conditions on your property. We highly recommend hiring an arborist with knowledge of the City's tree protection requirements or attending a coaching session to learn the specific rules for your property.

In general, the following rules apply when removing trees or vegetation.

Environmentally critical areas. You cannot remove any trees or vegetation from the following environmentally critical areas without a Tree Removal and Vegetation Restoration approval or issued building permit: landslide-prone critical areas, steep slope erosion hazard areas and their buffers, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas including riparian corridors, wetlands, and wetland buffers.

Shoreline District. In general, you cannot remove any trees or vegetation from the Shoreline District without an issued Shoreline Exemption or issued building permit. The Shoreline District is generally the land within 200 feet of a shoreline. The restriction on tree and vegetation removal in the Shoreline District is the same, regardless of whether the area is an environmentally critical area. Tree removal in the Shoreline District must also comply with the Tree Protection Code.

Undeveloped land. You cannot remove any tree 6 inches or greater in diameter, unless the tree is designated as hazardous. You must get a hazard tree assessment by a certified tree risk professional.

Developed property.

  • You cannot remove any exceptional trees unless they are hazardous. Exceptional trees are trees that are of significant size or have historical, ecological or aesthetic value.
  • You cannot cut down more than 3 non-exceptional trees 6 inches or greater in diameter each year.
  • You can remove trees after SDCI has approved a certified tree risk professional's determination that the trees are hazardous.

Developing property. If you are developing your property, you may have more flexibility to remove trees if they prevent you from using your property. We will review your tree and vegetation plans as part of your permit application. Depending on your project, you may be required to retain landscaping or use the Green Factor.

Read the Department of Natural Resources' Tree Protection on Construction and Development Sites for a good overview of tree care and protection measures. Some details and requirements are different from ours. In those few situations, you need to follow Seattle DCI's tree protection rules.

Read the Code

For more information on existing regulations, read:

Proposed Changes

In October 2017, Mayor Burgess signed the Tree Protection Executive Order that strengthens Seattle’s protections for trees on private property. The order:

  • Identifies areas where we can improve existing tree regulations
  • Creates additional tools to help mitigate tree loss
  • Asks city staff to explore how Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) policies could support Seattle’s urban forestry goals

As part of the Executive Order, we developed Director's Rule 17-2018, Calculating Tree Valuations and Civil Penalties for Tree Protection Code Violations. We received many comments regarding the draft rule; you can read our response to public comments, our Revised Tree Penalty Examples, and the public notice of the final Director’s Rule. This rule was renumbered from Director's Rule 21-2017 to reflect the year in which it is adopted.

If you have questions about the Tree Protection Executive Order, please contact Maggie Glowacki at Margaret.Glowacki@seattle.gov or (206) 386-4036.

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