Public Works

Bureau of Urban Forestry

The Bureau of Urban Forestry is part of the Department of Public Works under the Direction of Michael Alkhal, Director of Public Works and City Engineer. The bureau manages all urban forestry activities including monitoring, promoting, conducting, permitting, and overseeing all tree-related activities on public property in accordance with the City’s shade tree ordinance Article 910. The bureau also reviews all land development plans to ensure compliance with the City’s SALDO and Zoning ordinances as they pertain to landscaping. In addition, Urban Forestry manages and supports work with other departments and bureaus on forestry related matters, special programs, community outreach, education, and greening initiatives, and collaborates with community associations, government agencies, and volunteer groups to build and maintain a sustainable, attractive, and safe community environment.

Tree Permit - A tree permit is required to perform work on any public property tree within the City of Bethlehem.

Licensed City Arborist - Arboricultural work (other than tree planting) on public property must be performed by a tree service with personnel licensed to do work in the City of Bethlehem.

Moravian College Inventory of Bethlehem Trees

Bureau of Urban Forestry-610-865-7073
Cindy Smith-City Forester, ISA Certified Arborist

Bethlehem’s Shade Tree Ordinance was established in the 1960’s to protect, preserve, and promote our urban forest. The ordinance provides for regulations regarding pruning, removal, planting, and treating of street trees. The Director of Public works is charged with enforcing the regulations contained in the ordinance and has control of all trees and shrubs growing in the public right of way. The City forester issues recommendations to the Director regarding permit requests, tree inspections, nuisance abatement, and other related duties as delegated. No person in the City of Bethlehem may perform work on a street tree along the right of way or on any public property without first obtaining a tree permit. Any work done on public property trees must be done by an arborist on the list of Licensed City Arborists for the City of Bethlehem.

Tree City USA

Arbor Day

Bethlehem is proud of its designation as a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters. The Tree City USA program is designed to recognize those communities that manage their street and public property trees and to encourage development of community tree management programs based on criteria that provide structure, require demonstrated success, and promote community awareness and appreciation for public tree resources.

A city’s urban forest is an excellent indicator of the sense of pride and community spirit that exists within that community. Many times, a visitor’s first impression of a city is the condition and scope of its urban forest. Well maintained and healthy trees are a reflection of the people within that municipality and offer a welcoming atmosphere to all who enter. Trees are a valuable asset to any community and must be protected and cared for as such. The City of Bethlehem recognizes the value of its urban forests and has established a shade tree ordinance, Article 910 of the City’s codified ordinances, to protect and preserve it. This website is designed to provide residents with information about local ordinances, tree related programs, current arboricultural practices, and to impart a sense of stewardship among residents regarding the care and nurturing of the trees that make up our ‘green canopy’.

TREE PERMITS

Bethlehem City Ordinance Article 910 requires property owners in the City of Bethlehem to obtain a tree permit prior to pruning, removing, planting, applying pesticides, or performing any arboricultural work on a public property tree. Public property trees may be found growing not only in parks and around public buildings, but trees growing along City streets within the right of way are also considered public property trees. Land between private property lines set aside for use by the general public for pedestrian and vehicular use is considered a right of way. A typical city right of way includes the sidewalk, the parkway or tree lawn (the planting area between the curb and sidewalk), the curb, and the roadway. Sometimes a right of way may be missing one of these features and it’s difficult to tell if the tree is on private or public property. If you’re not sure whether the tree in question is within the right of way, contact the Bureau of Engineering for assistance.

Tree Pruning/Removal Requests:

Applications for permits are available at the Department of Public Works on the 4th floor at City Hall or you may click on the link below to download a tree permit application form. Fill out the tree permit application completely, including all signatures, and return it along with a non-refundable tree permit application fee to:

Bureau of Urban Forestry
City of Bethlehem
10 East Church Street
Bethlehem, PA 18018

Incomplete, illegible, or unsigned applications will not be processed. A Bureau of Urban Forestry representative or the City Forester will then:

  1. Inspect the site to assess the scope of proposed work and verify the address, along with the number, species, condition, and location of trees to be planted, pruned, or removed.
  2. Require that all work be performed in accordance with the current Arboricultural Specifications and Standards of Practice of the City of Bethlehem and that all contracted work be performed by a City licensed tree service.
  3. Notify the applicant listed on the permit application whether the permit has been approved or denied. Denied permits may be appealed to the Director of Public Works by contacting 610-865-7050. Approved permits requiring a licensed City Arborist may be picked up by the arborist at the counter on the 4th floor in City Hall at the address above. Permits that do not require the services of a licensed City Arborist (such as planting) may be picked up by the applicant. Payment for approved tree permits is accepted at the Financial Services counter on the 1st floor. It is the applicant’s responsibility to distribute copies to all appropriate parties.
  4. The property owner or the licensed City Arborist performing the work is responsible to post a copy at the jobsite so that it is visible at the front entrance. Contractors shall keep their copy in the vehicle while at the jobsite.
  5. All permitted tree work is to be completed within 60 days of the issue date. If the work is not completed within that time, another permit shall be required to continue work. The only exception is when replacement trees are required. The Bureau of Urban Forestry will allow a 6 month time period from the issue date of the permit for replacements to be planted in order to take advantage of optimum planting conditions.
  6. A permit is required for each address where tree work is proposed.

PERMIT FORM [PDF]

Bethlehem City Ordinance Article 910 requires that tree work on street trees within the right of way or on trees growing on public property must be performed by a tree service licensed by the City of Bethlehem. This requirement may, at times, be waived by the Director of Public Works if the work is considered minor, such as removing sucker growth from the base of a tree. Minor tree work may be performed by the property owner after obtaining approval from the Director of Public Works. The Director shall advise the property owner whether or not the proposed work is minor and issue a permit for the work.

A list of licensed City Arborists is available at the counter on the 4th floor of City Hall or you may click on the link below to download the list for your reference. All work must conform to the City’s current Arboricultural Specifications and Standards of Practice. As the property owner and permittee, you are ultimately responsible for any work done to trees on public property abutting your property.

When choosing a tree service company:

  1. Research the arborist’s reputation, ask for references, and visit other sites where the arborist has done work
  2. Check with the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) for certification.
  3. Ask to see personal and property damage insurance as well as workers’ compensation insurance
  4. Make sure that both you (the property owner) and the arborist have completely filled out the tree permit application form and signed it.
  5. Ask your arborist for the ‘property owner’ copy of the permit to post at your front entrance.

List of Licensed City Arborists

NOTE: This list does not constitute endorsement of any of the tree service companies found therein but is merely a compilation of those companies who have fulfilled the requirements for licensing to work on public property trees as found in Article 910 of the City Codified Ordinances.

The City of Bethlehem encourages the planting of trees along streets where sufficient space is available. A permit is required to plant a tree on public property. The permit process allows the City Forester to inspect the planting location and review the proposed species for appropriateness.

After planting the tree, the property owner is responsible for its maintenance and care which includes keeping it clear of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, watering in the drier months, pruning to achieve proper structure, and mulching. The property owner or their landscape contractor may plant the tree; a licensed City Arborist is not required for planting.

PLANT THE RIGHT TREE IN THE RIGHT PLACE!

Tree selection

Choose wisely! The City of Bethlehem Approved Street Tree List is available to help you in your selection of a proper tree. Keep in mind the maximum size of the tree you choose to minimize future maintenance costs and minimize infrastructure conflicts. No list is absolutely complete but there is a suitable tree for every location. Check the American Nurseryman Standards Book for help in selecting a tree of good proportions, health, and structure.

Location, location, location!

Planting a tree in the wrong place can lead to problems such as heaving pavements, pedestrian interference, and poor visibility for vehicular traffic. Tall-growing trees should not be situated under overhead wires and trees with wide, spreading crowns should not be placed in narrow areas where structures and roadways would limit their mature width. Think before you plant and consult your nurseryman or city forester on the mature height and width of the tree you want to plant.

TREE PLANTING BASICS

The best time to plant your tree is during the dormant season. In the Bethlehem area the ideal time to plant is spring, as soon as the ground is thawed and excess moisture has drained away. For species suitable for fall planting, the best time is as soon as the deciduous trees have lost their leaves.

Types of nursery stock:

  1. B&B (root ball wrapped in burlap)
  2. Container grown
  3. Bare root

B&B and Container

Dig the planting hole 2 to 3 times the width of the root ball and only as deep as the existing root system leaving a mound of undisturbed soil at the bottom of the hole for the root ball to rest on. Look for the tree’s root flare. Soil may have been heaped up on the trunk during digging and transport. The trunk of the tree should flare out slightly at the point where it enters the ground. Be sure to plant it at the same depth it grew at the nursery. After placing the tree in the prepared hole start backfilling the hole with un-amended topsoil; just enough to support the tree and keep it straight while you cut the rope or wire and fold or cut the burlap away from at least the top third of the root ball. Continue filling in the hole, tamping and watering alternately to avoid air pockets that could dry out roots. If your tree was in a container, check for roots encircling the ball. Gently pull these away and spread them out and away from the trunk while backfilling or cut them so they don’t continue to grow around and girdle the tree.

Bare Root

If planting a bare root tree, the soil mound at the bottom of the hole should be a little higher so that the roots can be spread out around it. Start backfilling the hole with un-amended topsoil, gently working it around the roots. Alternately water the tree to settle the soil and continue backfilling and tamping as for a B&B tree.

Mulch

Cover the planting area with 2” to 3” of shredded bark mulch making sure to keep it a few inches away from the trunk. Mulching conserves soil moisture, discourages weeds, and keeps mowers and string mowers away from the tree trunk. DO NOT pile mulch up and around the trunk of the tree (‘volcano’ mulching). This practice is detrimental to tree growth and health.

Staking

Staking should only be done if necessary as slight movement of the tree encourages better root growth. If supporting the tree, place stakes beyond root ball, use flexible ties, and remove stakes and ties after one year.

Pruning

Only prune damaged or crossed branches.

Watering

One of the most important things you can do to get your tree off to a good start is regular watering If rainfall is less than 1” per week, soak the soil around the newly planted tree applying between around 15 gallons per watering.

Fertilizing

It is not recommended to fertilize newly planted trees.

Sketch

Planting Detail Model [PDF]

All street trees must be tree form (single trunk) and a minimum caliper of 2” measured 6” above the root flair.

The provided information will help you select an appropriate tree for your location based on minimizing future maintenance costs. There is a suitable tree for almost every site. Note: spacing is a function of mature crown spread, and it may vary between species and cultivars.

Download Approved Tree List