The City of East Lansing has a long-standing commitment to urban forestry and has been recognized as a Tree City USA for more than 30 years by the National Arbor Day Foundation. The Department of Public Works (DPW) annually plants, cares for and maintains trees along streets and in City parks.
The City of East Lansing has a rich history of beautiful neighborhoods, community parks and recreation facilities. Trees help stabilize the soil, reduce noise levels, cleanse pollutants from the air, produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and provide habitat for wildlife. Trees also provide significant economic benefits, including increasing real estate values by creating more attractive settings in which to locate commercial business. In addition, trees provide shade and act as windbreaks, helping to decrease residential energy consumption, and they capture and infiltrate runoff, which reduces the burden on the City's stormwater infrastructure.
Urban Forest Management
The City is responsible for tree trimming, tree removal, stump grinding and emergency tree work for park and street trees. Street trees are located within the City right-of-way. While this is typically the space located between the sidewalk and street (known as the "parkway"), right-of-way still applies in areas where no sidewalk exists. View forestry definitions.
Residents are not authorized to trim, remove, destroy or cut any tree within the public right-of-way or park in the city without first obtaining a permit from the city engineer. If you believe a City tree is diseased, damaged or a hazard, fill out this quick online form or call the East Lansing Department of Public Works and Environmental Services for assessment. The City is responsible for the management of these trees and fines and penalties may be incurred where they are unlawfully removed. There are additional scenarios and zoning districts where tree removal or maintenance requires a permit as detailed here. Please call the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services for guidance and assessment of your situation.
Additionally, tree work requiring occupancy of the City right-of-way requires a permit. Permit applications for both Utility and Non-Utility right-of-way usage can be found here.
Street Tree Planting
When funding is available, DPW replaces trees that have been removed in the spring and/or fall according to the "Right Tree, Right Place" concept. Therefore, all aspects of the tree and the planting location are considered from the ultimate height of the tree, root zone, overhead utilities, sidewalks, etc. This concept minimizes damage to sidewalks and curbs, reduces conflicts with utilities and provides the best opportunity for a tree to grow up to maturity. Based on this concept, the City has developed a list of approved street trees which are suitable for planting along City streets.
While the City focuses on native tree species that provide food for wildlife, biodiversity, habitat and more (around 80% of recent plantings were native), the City also recognizes that our urban/suburban environment presents non-native conditions compared to a native, undeveloped landscape. Street trees must be resistant to unnatural stressors like air pollution, heat island effects, pests, road-salt, compacted soils and small spaces for roots. In some cases, non-native species are better suited for these conditions, more resistant to stressors/drought and are more likely to reach maturity and survive long term. To ensure a healthy, mature urban forest, the “Right Tree, Right Place” principles must be considered, and the City’s approved species list (which includes non-native species) reflects that need. However, it is important to note that “non-native” and “exotic” species differ from “invasive” species. Invasive trees can cause damage to the environment, other trees, insects, humans and wildlife. “Non-native” trees are simply those that did not historically exist in the area, but do not pose a threat to the native environment.
If you would like the parkway near your home to be considered for a potential tree planting, fill out this form. Note: this does not guarantee a tree will be planted. Several factors are considered when selecting areas to be planted, but this lets the City know you are willing to help care for a future tree near your home should your area be targeted for plantings.
Can Homeowners Plant Trees in the Parkway?
Yes. The City of East Lansing encourages homeowners to plant approved street trees in the parkway, however, residents are required to fill out this form and receive prior approval before planting. A site visit will be conducted to ensure that the appropriate variety of tree is chosen, adequate space is available and no utility or infrastructure conflicts are present. Residents will be contacted, and if approved, a planting permit will be issued.
Trees on Private Property
It’s estimated that the City’s urban tree canopy intercepts 43 million gallons of stormwater, cleans 200,000 pounds of air pollutants and sequesters almost 14,000 tons of carbon each year. For these reasons and more, homeowners are encouraged to both maintain existing trees and plant new ones within their own property.
Often, preserving or protecting mature trees can have a greater impact on urban canopy levels while newly planted trees are still growing. Their individual canopies prevent or reduce localized flooding and provide shade that take decades to replace if removed. If needed, connect with a local arborist for advice on preserving the health of your mature trees.
Planting new trees is also encouraged. Follow “Right Tree, Right Place” concepts to avoid collisions with buildings and powerlines and to ensure pleasing aesthetics. You can also utilize the I-Tree Design toolkit to the model crown growth and environmental benefits of potential plantings at your specific location. Appendix B of East Lansing’s Tree Canopy Assessment (below) also outlines recommended species based on the City’s climate and potential for stormwater management.
Once you have decided on a tree species, connect with our local Conservation Districts who offer bi-annual tree sales here:
Urban Tree Canopy Assessment
In 2017, Davey Resource Group performed an assessment of East Lansing’s urban tree canopy. This detailed priority planting zones and quantified the canopy’s benefits. The urban tree canopy assessment can be viewed here. This assessment found that maple trees make up 44 percent of existing City trees and recommended that both the City and private landowners plant other genera to promote species diversity in the urban canopy.
The City also maintains an inventory of all street trees to assist in on-going maintenance and planning.
Estimate the benefits of trees around your home using the National Tree Benefit Calculator -- type in your zip code, tree species and tree diameter.