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For Arbor Day: Is It Legal to Cut Down Trees?

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. | Last updated on

Happy Arbor Day! Though the day's goal is to inspire people to plant and celebrate trees, you may also be wondering if it's legal to cut down trees -- especially when it's a neighbor's tree that's somehow interfering with the enjoyment of your property.

Many people also wonder if it's legal to cut down a tree in the forest for personal use, such as for firewood or even to harvest your own Christmas tree.

So what are the laws regarding cutting down trees? Let's branch out a bit and consider these scenarios:

Trees That Cross Your Property Line

In general, trees growing on your own property can be cut down. The rules start to get hazy when a tree from your neighbor's yard crosses into your property or if your neighbor's trees block your view.

For the most part, the rule of thumb is whoever owns the yard the tree trunk is in owns that tree. However, if a neighbor's tree branch reaches over into your yard, you're generally allowed to trim the branches and limbs that extend past the property line. You're not allowed to destroy more than what's on your property, and you are prohibited from entering your neighbor's property to cut down the tree.

If you do cut down trees on your neighbor's or anyone else's property without permission, the property owner can sue you for the replacement value of the tree. In some cases, replanting mature trees can cost thousands of dollars, according to eHow.

Similarly, you probably can't cut down trees in your neighbor's yard that block your view, unless there's a zoning law or easement in place. In most states, there's no right to a specific view, so even if the trees are blocking your view of the ocean, it's unlikely that you can chop it down without consent.

Trees in the Forest

So what about trees in the forest? The first thing you'll want to do is to find out who owns the land. If it's private or protected property, you'll get in trouble for trespassing if you enter and cut down a tree without permission.

However, the federal government does allow people to cut down trees in some of its national forests. For example, Christmas trees can be cut down from some of the land owned and operated by the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, according to Modern Farmer. The caveat is that you must obtain a permit first, and the dates for cutting down trees may be limited.

The Takeaway

Still can't see the forest for the trees? Just remember this general rule: Get permission or make sure you own the tree before cutting it down.

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