It is not illegal to cut down an oak tree, just as long as it is not protected in your city. If your Oaktree is smaller than local rules for tree removal, then you should be OK to remove it without a permit.
If it is larger and considered protected, you will need to apply for a permit.
Let me explain…
…Every city in the US has tree protection laws that oak trees fall under. They do not have their own separate set of laws.
Laws vary from city to city, so you will need to read the Tree Removal Ordinance for your particular city to see whether your oak tree is protected.
Protection laws normally only apply to medium to large specimens, but again you will need to double-check to be sure.
Below is some more specific information for oak tree protection laws generally, and for California and Florida.
Oak trees are specifically protected by name in some cities in California and Florida (e.g. Los Angeles), but in most cases, they fall under the general tree protection laws2 as outlined by each city’s tree ordinance.
If your city allows the removal of all trees smaller than a trunk diameter of 8” and your Oaktree is smaller, then you are able to remove it without a permit.
If it is larger than 8” then you will need to apply to the city for a permit to remove the tree.
Florida and California Oak tree laws
California Oak Tree laws
Oak tree removal from private property in California will require a special permit in most cases. Los Angeles, for example, recognizes oak trees as significant historical, aesthetic, and ecological resources. All removals will require a permit in that county.
To know whether your oak tree will require a permit, you would need to read the specific tree ordinance for your city.
Laws on the removal of all trees including Oak trees vary and one rule in Los Angeles will be different from rules in San Diego.
To view, the tree protection laws for your city visit our tree laws and permit page here. Select your state, then city to be directed to the ordinance.
If you do happen to remove a native tree like an oak tree and they are protected in your city, you could face hefty fines.
General Tree protection Laws
Tree removal and pruning laws have been established in all cities to preserve and maintain the canopy cover and all the benefits it brings to a city. Most of these laws are city-specific, but some such as noxious weed removal laws are more general to states.
The retention of trees in cities and the planting of trees in new developments significantly improve the quality of life of the people who live there.
Not only do trees reduce temperatures in summer, and clean the air, but numerous studies have found trees lower stress levels and provide habitat for native birds who are singing further reducing stress.
If you do have an oak tree on your property that is protected by city or state removal laws, you will need to make an application for a permit to remove the tree.
The process generally takes about 2 weeks from filling out the form to having the permit in your hand.
One critical factor for gaining approval to remove your oak tree is the reason you give for why you want to remove the tree.
“It’s dropping too many acorns” is not a good enough excuse to get approval.
The tree would need to be unsafe, unhealthy, or causing damage to the foundations of your home.
Go to this article for more information on how to win approval from the council for tree removal.
Will I need a permit to remove an oak tree?
In most cases, you will need a permit to remove a large oak tree.
This is not because it is specifically an oak tree, but as a general rule, most cities and counties around the country have tree ordinances that protect the urban forest and canopy cover.
To remove a tree of any notable size you will most likely need a permit.
That being said you will need to view the tree ordinance for your city to be sure. There are some cities that are a little more relaxed when it comes to tree removal.
Oak tree ordinance Los Angeles
Los Angeles County has taken a large step to ensure the conservation of the oak tree in their district which they recognize as a significant historical and ecological resource.
An Oak tree within Los Angeles has a trunk diameter of 8” or more when measured 4.5 feet above ground level.
These rules also extend to pruning, cutting, paving, or disturbing the tree in any way.
You can read more in the actual Oaktree ordinances for Los Angeles here: https://ucanr.edu/sites/oak_range/files/60602.pdf
Applying for Oak tree removal
Even grand old oak trees need to be removed from time to time, so just because your tree is protected does not mean getting a permit for removal is impossible.
Even the most beautiful old grandfather Oaks reach the end of their useful life expectancy, become dangerous, and need removal.
Below are a few of the most common reasons an oak tree will need removal. For more detailed cost guides on tree removal costs by size and species, check our homepage for links.
SULE and Amenity Value
There are scores of reasons we like and need trees in an urban environment, but as an Oak tree ages, the amenity value it brings to a community can also be depleted.
A certified arborist can carry out what is called a Safe and Useful Life Expectancy report (SULE) to determine the viability of retaining a tree. If the tree is considered more of a danger than an asset, grounds for the removal of the tree can be argued.
Trees can become dangerous very quickly and a lot of the time after a large storm has passed through. After prolonged rain or wind, a large tree becomes unstable and develops a lean.
In other cases, they can be struck by lightning and split. Anywhere humans are, Oak trees need to be stable and safe, so once a tree becomes a danger to society, its removal should be considered.
Infected with oak wilt
Oak wilt is a horrible fungal disease that causes the tree to wilt, lose its leaves, and eventually die. This transmits from tree to tree so the infected trees need to be removed and disposed of.
If your tree has contracted Oak wilt you will need to contact your city arborist for inspection and advice on how to proceed.
Appeals process for rejected applications
Generally, when you apply for an Oak tree to be removed, you submit an application with your city or county and give reasons for you wanting it removed. If the application is rejected there is an appeals process that can be followed.
When appealing a decision to not allow a permit for removal, you will more than likely need to present further evidence to back up your reasons for removal. This will need to be in the form of a written arborist report.
Having an independent arborist verify that the tree is in fact dangerous and needs removing will go a long way to helping push through the application approval.
The cost to cut down and remove an oak tree will depend on the size of the tree and the company you use to do the job.
The average price for Oaktree removal is $1,250. The real range however is $740 – $4,499.
Because every tree is different, the price is going to vary, so you are best getting a price from an arborist near you and comparing those before proceeding.
If your Oak tree was damaged or fell in a storm, then chances are your homeowner’s insurance will cover the removal of the tree and the repairs to your home or belongings.
If you remove your oak tree “just because”, then you will have to pay for it yourself.
How you care for an oak tree will depend on the age and state of the tree. Also different factors such as where you live and how much light or rain the tree gets will determine what you need to do.
For juvenile trees, you will need to implement a watering program and trim it to a single main leader.
Once the tree is 10 – 15 years old you can water it less regularly, but still it is advisable to water during prolonged dry spells.
Pruning small and large Oak trees every 2 – 3 years is important to remove dead and crossing branches, as well as allow light and airflow between branches.
More information on Oaktree maintenance here.
You cannot top an oak tree and expect the tree to grow into a beautiful specimen. Once you top an Oak tree it will shoot out suckers that continue to grow into branches. These are not actually secured to the tree but rather grow off the bark of the tree. They will come crashing down after a few years.
If you want to remove some volume off the tree you are best performing a canopy lift which is to remove the lower branches.
Simply put they are viewed as a significant contribution to the aesthetic appeal of an area as well as the ecosystem. They are a beautiful tree and each specimen is unique and worthy of protection.
You can trim oak trees in California, but in some cases, you will need a permit. Make sure you check with your local city or county to see the local rules for tree trimming.
In most cases, the city will allow you to remove 10% of the tree’s foliage each year.
- Forest Service USDA, (2023). Laws and Regulations. <https://www.fs.usda.gov/about-agency/regulations-policies/laws-regulations> Accessed: 16-02-2024
- UF | IFAS, (2019) Cities with Tree Protection Laws Show More Canopy Coverage, Savings. <https://www.newswise.com/articles/cities-with-tree-protection-laws-show-more-canopy-coverage-savings> Accessed: 16-02-2024