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Plant or Pay, Montgomery Township's New Tree Ordinance

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted March 28, 2024 (Updated March 29, 2024)


As of May 1, Montgomery residents will need a permit to remove any tree from their property. If they remove a live tree, they will then have the option of planting a replacement tree, or paying $500 per tree into a municipal tree replacement fund. Dead trees are exempt, however, the resident will have to prove to municipal employees that the tree is dead.


A town hall on the proposed ordinance, which is mandated by a new state law, drew a large crowd of residents to the Montgomery municipal building on Wednesday, March 27. Folks eagerly weighed in with their opinions. Many supported the planting of more trees in the township, but some disagreed with the proposed conditions of the ordinance.


Skillman Park, NJ

Newly planted trees in Skillman Park, Montgomery Township. Photo by Barbara A. Preston.


The Township Committee plans to introduce the new tree ordinance at its April 4 meeting, at 7pm. The Planning Board will weigh in at their April 8 meeting. The Township Committee public hearing and final adoption is scheduled for April 18. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires the ordinance to be in place by May 1.


If a Montgomery resident wants to chop down a live tree on their property after May 1, they must first apply for a $150 permit, and then plant a replacement tree or pay $500 per tree into a municipal tree fund. DBH in the above chart stands for diameter at breast height. If the DBH of the live tree is greater than 6 inches, the resident will be required to plant two replacement trees, or contribute $1,000 into the municipal tree fund. A DBH of 18 to 30 inches would require three replacement trees or $1,500. And a live tree above a 30-inch diameter would require four replacement trees, or $2,000 into the municipal tree fund. Above chart is from the proposed tree ordinance.


Pros and Cons of the Proposed Ordinance

Michael Pisauro, policy director at The Watershed Institute in Hopewell, attended the town forum and said there are many good reasons to support the new ordinance.


"As we all know, flooding is getting worse," he said. "Trees provide many benefits. Not only do they absorb stormwater, and we can argue whether a tree absorbs 10,000 gallons or 5,000 gallons over a year, but it also slows it down. Trees also filter out pollutants, provide habitat, and provde shade [and climate control]."


The new tree ordinance drew a full house at town hall. Photo by Barbara A. Preston.


Montgomery Township has lost 22.5 percent of its forests — that's 1,489 acres of forrested land since 1972 — according to data from the NJ DEP. Montgomery has 5,140 acres of forest remaining. In addition to housing developments, threats to the forests include overpopulation of deer, invasive insects (Emerald Ash Borer), and diseases.


Cons Expressed by Multiple Speakers

The cost of the permits — $150 for removal of 1 to 10 trees and $50 per each additional tree — was said to be excessive. The cost would apply only to residents who plan to remove a “live” tree.


The permit application would include a property survey, plan, and sketch showing tree location(s), size, and species; a narrative of purpose; and the replacement plan with locations, caliper (the diameter at breast height of a tree), and species.


The permit application fee would be waived for residents seeking a valid exemption from planting a new tree. Exemptions from replanting requirements:

  • Dead, diseased

  • Trees within 50-feet of primary building

  • Trees posing a public safety concern

  • Trees interfering with a septic system

  • Farms with an approved woodland management plan


Property owners seeking exemption for planting replacement trees would still need to complete the application with basic details (name, address, contact information, number of trees proposed for removal, and photos. This is to prove the tree or trees to be removed would qualify for the  exemption.


The replacement trees must be 2 inches in diameter.


Ed Heebner, who has lived on a 1.5-acres Montgomery property for 30 years, said, "It's terrible that the township is being forced to comply with the state ordinance. Anything in the township ordinance that is anything above the absolute minimum that the state requires is adding fuel to an unnecessary fire."


"Why can I not take down a live tree and replace it with another tree of my choice?" he asked. "Do you know how much money it will cost to buy a [replacement] tree that is 2 inches in diameter? You can’t buy them at Home Depot. And, a lot of people will not be able to plant their own trees, and now you’re talking about having to have a professional come by. So, if you want to take down a live tree, you are suddenly going to be burdened by about $1,000 cost – just to replace that tree on your own property."


Heebner concluded that, “It is an enormous usurping of homeowners rights to declare that suddenly trees that homeowners have lived with for decades or planted themselves are suddenly [under the] control of the township."


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Timeline

The Township Committee plans to introduce the new ordinance at its April 4 meeting, at 7 pm. The Planning Board will weigh in at their April 8 meeting. The Township Committee public hearing and final adoption is scheduled for April 18. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires the ordinance to be in place by May 1.



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