Neighborhood Tree Stewards Program


Do you like trees? Are you interested in our urban natural resources? Want to make your neighborhood greener? Become a Neighborhood Tree Steward!

Neighborhood Tree Stewards Training will take place in May, 2023. The hybrid training includes three online evening sessions and three in-person field days, view the schedule.

If you have questions or would like further information, email Urban Forestry or call 360-487-8308.

Neighborhood Tree Stewards receive free education from local arboriculture (tree) experts on tree identification, tree biology, proper tree care, Vancouver tree regulations, tree planting, natural area restoration, nursery tree production, and the benefits of trees. After the training, the Tree Stewards will be equipped to take on the task of spreading accurate information about trees to their own neighborhoods. Tree Stewards volunteer to conduct a tree planting or tree-related education project in exchange for the training and education they receive. The Urban Forestry staff will offer guidance and assistance throughout the project.

If you are thinking a year ahead, sow a seed.
If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant a tree.
If you are thinking one hundred years ahead, educate the people.
— Chinese Poet, 500 BC

The need for more urban forestry education is documented in the City of Vancouver’s Urban Forestry Work Plan. The plan identifies individual citizens as major players in the implementation of the work plan because the city depends on property owners to care for trees on their private property as well as the trees in the right-of-way adjoining their property. Fully two-thirds of Vancouver’s existing tree cover is on private property. However, property owners have very limited knowledge of tree regulations or tree management. Evidence of mismanaged trees is visible all over the city: it is estimated that at least 30% of Vancouver’s street trees have been topped; many trees have been unnecessarily removed and have not been replanted; trees are planted in inappropriate locations; many trees do not receive adequate watering, pruning and other care.

Trees provide important environmental, social and economic benefits to all of us. To better integrate property owners in the management of the urban forest, they need to understand the various aspects of urban forestry management and tree care. By understanding the benefits of and threats to the urban forest, the resources available, and the roles of the many partners, property owners can make better tree care decisions as well as be advocates for the trees in their communities.

Call 360-487-8308 for details or email Urban Forestry.

Neighborhood Tree Stewards is coordinated by the Urban Forestry Division of Vancouver Public Works Environmental Resources Division. Partners include Friends of Trees, AKS Engineering, Watersheds Alliance, City of Vancouver.


 Neighborhood Tree Steward Course Schedule

Web Links


Planning Tree Work? Check First.

Before starting or hiring any work on your trees, find out if you need a permit.

Within the City of Vancouver, permits are required to remove, plant or do major pruning on trees planted along streets. Removal of trees in your yard may also require a permit, depending upon the site and other factors. Many residential areas are developed with requirements to protect trees within yards. 

Trees are a valuable resource to our community. They decrease stormwater runoff, clean our air, cool our neighborhoods, increase neighborhood livability, reduce energy costs, and add value to property. It takes a lifetime to grow a tree, but it only takes a minute to improperly prune or remove one.

Failure to obtain a permit before starting work will result in a violation and monetary fines per Vancouver Municipal Code (VMC 12.004 and VMC 20.770)

To be sure about your responsibilities, please call us before you make plans to cut. Visit urban forestry then click on the tree permits tab. Or contact 360-487-8332 or Vancouver Urban Forestry is a division of the Department of Public Works.

Never “top”

Fact or myth? Discover the truth about tree topping and learn alternatives that keep your trees healthy. Then help us spread the word. Together, we can protect and enhance Vancouver’s urban forest canopy to provide shade, reduce erosion, improve water and air quality, and sustain our high quality of life.

What is Topping?

Topping is the drastic removal of large quantities of leaves and branches from a tree’s crown.
According to the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), “topping is the indiscriminate cutting back of tree branches to stubs or lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal role.”

Other names for topping:

  • Heading
  • Tipping
  • Hat-racking
  • Rounding over


  • Hurts trees.
  • Is expensive.
  • Creates unsafe, hazardous conditions.
  • Shortens the life of a tree.

Myth Busting

Myth: “Topping rejuvenates the tree.”
Fact: Actually, topping removes large amounts of energy-converting foliage from the tree. This forces the tree to tap energy reserves as it tries to replace the lost foliage, weakening the tree. A weakened tree is more vulnerable to attacks by pests and disease.

Myth: “Topping makes the tree fuller.”
Fact: In fact, many trees will send out or flush large amounts of foliage to replace the missing leaves. New growth is dense and may appear to be fuller, but those new branches are poorly attached and can easily break. Plus, topped branches are open for attacks by pests and decay.

Myth: “Topping is more affordable.”
Fact: A topped tree requires more maintenance because you have to prune it more often. Ultimately, the tree will die prematurely, reducing your property value and possibly even the character of your neighborhood. Then, you end up having to pay for the dead tree to be removed and replaced.

Myth: “All of my neighbors top.”
Fact: Research has shown how proper pruning techniques work with a tree’s biology, not against it. Many of your neighbors already know this, and if they don’t, you can help them learn!

Myth: “New growth is stronger.”
Fact: The new growth after topping usually grows faster, but it is not stronger. Instead, the new growth is poorly attached and easily breaks off, increasing the risks of storm damage and personal liability.

Myth: “The tree casts too much shade.”
Fact: The canopy of a tree may be thinned to allow in more sunlight by using proper pruning techniques that don’t damage the tree like topping does.

Myth: “The tree got too big.”
Fact: Trees have a genetic disposition to be a certain size and seldom deviate beyond their genetic parameters. However, their placement within the context of your neighborhood or property may affect its preferrable size. If tree size is a concern, consider your selection. Plant trees that will fit the available space when they reach maturity.

Even More Reasons Not to Top Your Tree

What Are Some Alternatives to Topping?

Plant the right tree in the right place. Carefully select the appropriate species before you plant a tree. Bear in mind the mature size of the tree and avoid planting trees that will cause future conflicts with infrastructure, utilities, structures or views.

Prune properly to allow your trees to realize their full potential for health and beauty in the landscape. Proper pruning removes excessive growth without leaving the tree vulnerable. After a proper pruning, you usually can wait 10 to 15 years before they will need to be pruned again, whereas if you top your trees, you may have to prune your trees every few years.

Enhance views by windowing, crown raising or using other, healthy pruning techniques. There are many excellent methods to manage tree growth without hurting the tree. Here are a few:

  • Windowing removes several branches symmetrically within an area of the tree. By carefully choosing which branches to cut, and making proper pruning cuts, you can leave a window in a tree that provides a fully-framed view and also maintains the health of the tree.
  • Crown raising or skirting removes lower branches to open up a view. To maintain a healthy tree, never remove more than 25% of the canopy at one time and retain at least 2/3 live crown ratio.
  • Crown cleaning removes dead, dying, diseased, crowded, weakly-attached or low-vigor branches.
  • Crown reduction or drop-crotching removes larger branches at the top or side of a tree when its size absolutely must be reduced, such as when utility lines are competing for space. (This is the method that Clark Public Utilities uses to maintain their utility lines.) Be sure to use proper pruning cuts above a lateral branch that will increase in size after cutting.

Ready to learn more about proper pruning? Check out this article from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources: Remove the 3 D’s from your trees; learn what, when and how to prune

How You Can Make a Difference

By taking care of our existing trees and planting more, we maximize the community benefits of our urban forest. There are many ways you can enhance the health and beauty of our community:

  • Contact us to schedule a presentation to give to your group.
  • Print out this No Topping poster and display in your break area, business window, or other high traffic area.
  • Include information in your newsletter or publication about the hazards of topping. We can provide a short article for your publication.
  • Hire a professional arborist that is licensed and bonded, and ask plenty of questions about their business practices.
  • Become a Neighborhood Tree Steward and help preserve our urban forest.
  • Let the neighborhood know topping is bad with a yard sign; contact Urban Forestry to find out how to get one.
  • Attend one of the many upcoming events where you can visit with Urban Forestry and get involved.
  • Do you have a good idea on how to inform others that topping is not the right solution? We’d love to hear it.
Pop-Up Arboretum

Explore Pop-Up Arboretums at parks across Vancouver during Arbor Month in April and all summer long. Our parks have a wonderful assortment of trees worthy of being called an arboretum, or a collection of trees. Informational signs are temporarily installed on select trees at two parks each month during the summer months and during Arbor Month. Hone your tree identification skills and learn fun facts about your park trees. 

Explore the Bagley Park and Fruit Valley Park this April, learn more below.

Bagley Community Park

This 15.3-acre park is located in the Bagley Downs Neighborhood. With a playground, sports fields, and walking paths, this community park provides space for play and leisure, and hosts many community events. 12 trees around the park make up this pop-up arboretum. Learn more about Bagley Park.

Bagley Community Park directions

Fruit Valley Park

This 6 acre neighborhood park is located in the Fruit Valley Neighborhood at the west end of downtown Vancouver. This park is home to the Fruit Valley Community Center, as well as a playground and sports court. Thanks to a sizable grant, this park has been undergoing continual improvements in the past few years. 10 trees along the walking paths create this pop-up arboretum. Learn more about Fruit Valley Park here.

Fruit Valley Park directions