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Forestry Department FAQs

Can I prune the trees on the city's Right-of-Way?

Only certified Arborists are allowed to prune trees on the city's Right of Way. The City of Rockford's Forestry Department will prune them for property owners at no cost. Give us a call at 779-348-7260 and make a request. If you wish to hire an arborist to prune the tree, you'll need an approved maintenance permit. Call us at the same number, and we can send you a permit application or you can download one here. Once it's complete and has been verified, we will advise your contractor as to whether it’s been approved or not.

Remember, trees that grow in the Right-of-Way belong to the city. We prune at the request of the homeowner, at the request of neighbors, and from personal observation. We attempt to honor the wishes of the property owner, but ultimately, our crews do what is best for the tree, and for the City.

Since I can't prune these trees, I probably can't remove them either, can I?

That's right. Removing a tree is a big decision - one we don't take lightly. Homeowners can request a tree be removed, but the Forester's primary responsibility is to retain as many trees as possible. Often times, a tree that looks like it needs to be taken down can be saved by strategic removal of dead branches and proper pruning. Our arborists will evaluate all removal requests, and if it is determined a tree can be saved, it will be scheduled for maintenance rather than removal.

There is an Ash tree in my yard, what do I do?

Well, that depends. If it is not within the public Right of Way, that makes you the owner of the tree. We recommend you consult a local arborist to evaluate the tree and determine a course of action. You can remove or treat the tree.*

If the tree is on the City's Right-of-Way, we will evaluate the tree to determine what needs to be done. The city has approximately 8,000 ash trees in the public Right of Way. For the past few years, we have been diligent in watching for the EAB, and developing a course of action.

Our current plans are as follows:

o Treat between 100 and 500 trees annually

o Remove approximately 1000 trees per year for the next 7 years

o Replant select locations with other appropriate species

Our Forester evaluates each individual tree before we take any action. Among the criteria evaluated are terrace width, tree size, structure, condition, and presence of utility wires. If the tree meets certain criteria, we treat it*. If not, we'll assign it to a contractor for removal. In select areas, based on site evaluations, we will eventually plant a new tree.

* Treatment of ash trees requires a long-term commitment. Generally speaking, once treatment begins, it will need to repeated periodically for the life of the tree based on the pesticide manufacturers recommendation. Whether the property owner or the City performs the application, the decision is one that requires follow through for years to come.

If the Forester has decided to remove an ash tree in the City's Right-of-Way, but you'd rather keep it, you may have a certified arborist treat it at your expense. All you need is an approved maintenance permit. The Forester will re-evaluate the tree in question, and make a determination. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to treat a tree to try to save it. In those instances, the forester will deny the maintenance permit application.

One last thing - there are many great tree maintenance companies in town. The forestry department does not endorse nor does it refer any of them. For private trees, you may hire any company you choose however, if you acquire a maintenance permit for a city owned tree, the company you hire must have a certified arborist on site while the maintenance is being done.

What if I want to plant a tree in the Right of Way?

Sure, that's easy. First begin by calling the Forestry Department at 779-348-7260 to see if there is City funding or a 50/50 cost sharing program available that you may want to take advantage of. We'll add your name to our database, and when funding is available you will be notified on a first-come/first-served basis.

Citizens may also purchase and plant new trees themselves however you will first need to acquire a permit (don’t worry, they're free), and approval from the Forester. You can download the permit application from here. Fill it out and mail it back. Once the Forester approves the proposed planting site and evaluates your tree choice, you'll be notified and you can proceed with planting your tree. Don't forget to call JULIE at least 48 hours before you dig - Dial 811, or click www.illinois1call to initiate your locate request online.

NOTE: Trees planted without an approved permit may be subject to removal if the size, species or planting site does not meet City standards.

My sidewalk has buckled because of tree roots; will you cut the tree down?

Generally not. If the tree is otherwise healthy, buckling a sidewalk is not grounds for removing a tree.

Sidewalk repairs are handled by the Public Works Engineering Division. They may be reached at 779-348-7176.

My sewer pipes have been invaded by tree roots.

You probably found out because a plumber had to come out and clean your sewer line. Contact Rock River Water Reclamation District at 815-387-7400 or click here for questions about your sanitary sewer.

Tree roots that have grown into a sanitary sewer line are only seeking the moisture and nutrients that are leaking from a cracked or damaged pipe. This is a normal behavior for trees, and is not sufficient grounds to have a tree removed.

Sometimes, Rock River Water Reclamation District will be forced to remove a tree to make repairs to the sanitary sewer. If that happens, RRWRD will ensure the contractor hauls away the stumps, and restores the right-of-way when they are done with their work.

I heard there's free mulch someplace, how does that work?

The city provides free mulch to residents for private use. It is not intended for contractors, or people who live outside the city limits. Mulch is generally available from May 1st to September 30th however our seasonal supply may be depleted earlier than anticipated, dependent on demand.

Our mulch is self-serve, and on a first-come/first-served basis. You'll find it across from the city yards at 523 S. Central Ave. Bring your own shovel* and vehicle to haul it. We generally try to refill the mulch area before the weekends, either on Thursday or Friday, although sometimes we fill it earlier. Simply call 779-348-7260 to see if we have any available, or click this link to see the feed from our "mulch cam".

* No heavy equipment please – skidsteers, tractors, etc. are not allowed.

A limb broke in a tree, and it is still there hanging in the tree.

If the tree is on the City's Right-of Way, please call 779-348-7260.

How about storm damage? What happens with the trees and branches that blow down?

When windstorms occur, our crews will be out to clear the storm damage as quickly as possible. Our primary goal is to make the streets safely passable. Trees that are completely blocking streets take first priority. Next we work on the partially blocked streets and driveways, and dangerous hanging branches. Finally, once all the streets are completely cleared, we work on picking up limbs that have fallen. We may have also stacked debris on the right-of -way when we were clearing the streets - city crews will return and remove this at a later date. Depending on the severity of the windstorm, this sometimes takes from a few days to a few weeks. You can request removal of fallen limbs or entire tree by calling us at 779-348-7260.

NOTE: City-wide cleanup of both public and private trees will only be undertaken subsequent to a catastrophic event (i.e.: tornado, microburst, etc.) The Public Works Director and City Forester will make the determination as to whether or not a cleanup of this magnitude is warranted. Lesser localized windstorm events will be addressed on a citizen call-in basis and only tree debris originating from city owned trees will be picked up. Private tree debris remains the responsibility of the property owner(s).

If a private tree has fallen and is blocking (or partially blocking) a city street, city crews may clear the street, but the debris will be left for the property owner to remove.

City crews will not normally pick up tree debris originating from trees growing on private property. The responsibility for disposal of private tree debris rests solely on the property owner.

The tree in front of my house has been removed, but there is still a stump. What happens next?

Generally, the contractor has one crew remove the tree, and another comes in behind them to remove the stump. This does not always happen on the same day as the tree removal. Be patient, the contractor will get to it. If more than 30 days has passed, please give us a call at 779-348-7260 so we can follow up with the contractor.

The contractor will grind the stump to a few inches below the surface of the yard, cover it with dirt, and seed. This final restoration process is dependent on time of year and weather conditions. While we continue to remove trees year-round, topsoil is only available part of the year. Sometimes in the spring there is a delay in getting to the restorations because topsoil may not be available. The contractor keeps a list of addresses that need to be completed, and they will be sure to complete every job.

Someone cleared the trees from the power lines, but left the branches. Who is responsible for these?

The utility companies hire their own contractors to adjust clearance for their power lines. These are not city crews. If the trees that were trimmed are on the City's Right-of-Way, the forestry department will remove them. Give us a call at 779-348-7260 and make a request.

If the trees are along the back of your yard or on a utility easement, those will be up to you to dispose of. As long as the branches are smaller than 4" in diameter, you can use twine to bundle them in 3 foot long sections, and Rock River Disposal will pick them up along with yard waste. If the logs are larger than 4" in diameter, you'll need to haul them to the compost facility or find someone to take them as firewood.

Link to Rock River Valley Compost (Link opens new window)

I have debris from private trees to dispose of. What can I do with it?

As long as the branches are smaller than 4" in diameter, you can use twine to bundle them in 3 foot long sections, and Rock River Disposal will pick them up along with yard waste. If the logs are larger than 4" in diameter, you'll need to haul them to the compost facility or find someone to take them as firewood.

Link to Rock River Valley Compost (Link opens new window)


For information on the cause and effect of the Emerald Ash Borer, please log on to the following Illinois Dept. of Agriculture website: (Link opens new window)

Gypsy Moth

Right-of-Way Planting other than trees

Flowers are also allowed in the right of way as long as an encroachment permit has been purchased & approved, and a signed copy of the required maintenance agreement is on file with the City of Rockford.

Other Right-of-Way Encroachments

Hedges & bushes, bark, mulch, stone, sand, loose dirt, and boulders are completely prohibited in the Right-of-Way. Landscaping blocks, bricks or timbers are only allowed if they are required to provide stabilization due to existing grade conditions, and are approved by the City Engineer.

You can download an encroachment permit here.

Where can I download Forestry permits?


Page last updated: 5/6/2013 11:12:25 AM

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Special thanks to Jason Rotello and Tamika Jones for contributing images for the City of Rockford website.