Trees that reside between the sidewalk and road (often referred to as the terrace) fall under City ownership and as such the City is responsible for pruning and removal as necessary. Current city ordinances (Chapter 20) require a minimum sidewalk clearance of 10 feet and a road minimum clearance of 14 feet.
Unfortunately current staffing levels and budgetary constraints dictate pruning and removal activities in Middleton. This translates into a policy of addressing hazard tree issues (i.e. storm damage, broken limbs, split trunks) as close to immediately as possible; street, sign, and sidewalk clearance issues second; and minor deadwood and form pruning being lowest on the priority list.
Tree pruning under and around power-lines is not conducted by city staff. This is handled by the utility companies themselves and they are regulated by law as to how much pruning is needed.
Clearance pruning of street trees by trained city staff is normally done during the winter months when time allows (when the city is not dealing with plowing snow). This is unfortunate as clearance pruning of trees has generally fallen behind from desired pruning cycles. This has the unintended result of streets with tree branches that are well below 14 ft. and a higher than desired amount of pruning conducted when pruning finally does occur. This is a practice that needs to be addressed and modified to regain the desired pruning cycle.
It is not permissible for a resident to prune city street trees. However if you do wish to have a city street tree(s) pruned to a greater degree or in a faster manner than what the city can provide, please contact the City Forester/Horticulturist, Mark Wegner, and you may be issued a permit to have a licensed, professional tree service do the work for you. We require this in order to maintain proper pruning techniques, to accurately track tree care activities, and to protect the city from liability issues.
For guidance on pruning trees in your own yard, please feel free to contact the City Forester.
Arbor Day tree pruning guide
WI DNR tree pruning brochure
Removal of street trees are avoided whenever possible. When the City does remove a street tree, it most often falls into one of these categories: storm damaged or hazardous (more than 50% dead, cracked trunk); extensive root damage due to sidewalk/curb replacement (prone to falling over due to instability); extensive decay due to fungi or insects (Ganoderma, ants); diseased or infected (oak wilt, dutch elm disease, emerald ash borer).
How to Recognize Hazardous Defects in Trees
As with pruning, the City currently has limitations on what we can handle ourselves. Most trees under 14” DBH (diameter at breast height, about the size of a take home frozen pizza) can be handled by city crews. Trees larger than this, around power lines, or highly hazardous are removed by contractors. Trees that pose immediate threats to people and/or property are addressed as soon as the city is aware of them, while the remainder of the trees slated for removal are grouped along with the trees in need of pruning and sent for contractor bidding.
Removal of street trees by residents is not permitted. If you feel that your tree is a threat to your property or others, please call 821-8360 and the City Forester will come and assess the tree in question.