War over local tree ordinances rages on into special session

Locals fight to keep city ordinances to protect heritage trees. (KXAN photo)

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) – Gov. Greg Abbott wants Texas lawmakers to ban city tree ordinances across the state. So much so that it’s an item lawmakers are expected to tackle during a special session.

“The reality is most everybody likes trees, they plant trees in their yards and there’s a reason for it. It makes their yard look good, provides shade, adds value, but it’s one thing for an individual to decide they want to plant trees on their own private property, it’s another thing for the government to come in and tell you what to do with what is going on your property,” said Abbott.

If passed, landowners would be allowed to chop down any tree type, regardless of size, without a permit.

“This is an Anacua tree, or the sandpaper tree,” said tree advocate Zach Halfin while standing near the San Marcos River. “It’s a native semi-riparian tree that provides lots of food for birds.”

Halfin says he’s fought to save trees for many years and stands behind ordinances throughout the state that prevent property owners from cutting down large heritage trees.

“The value of them goes beyond our generation and even the next. They serve many, many functions, many ecological and many of them have to do with human comfort too.”

Senator Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, is one lawmaker pushing to ban tree ordinances.

“I believe that if you own the property, you own the trees on the property,” said Campbell. “Tree ordinances by the city, the regulations, interfere with businesses as well as personal property.”

Campbell requested an opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton regarding the legality of the ordinance, on Monday he responded. “Whether under certain circumstances municipal tree preservation ordinances may violate the Takings Clause of the Texas Constitution,” wrote Paxton.

“The Attorney General can only opine on what’s actually in the law. The legislature tells home ruled cities what they can’t do. So, with that I have now clarification to say we as a legislature must pass laws that say the cities cannot violate the property owner’s right to their own trees,” said Campbell.

Whatever lawmakers decide, those along the river remain hopeful that people will carefully consider the trees that have cooled Texas for hundreds of years.

“They help with mitigating climate extremes, they keep the city cooler, better shaded, they add quite an aesthetic beauty to it,” said Halfin.

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