- We interviewed 23 local government professionals on private tree protections.
- Protections are undermined by exemptions, subjective enforcement and low penalties.
- Interviewees think private landholders exaggerate the risk from trees.
- Community support for trees and private tree stewardship viewed as critical.
- Stronger rules and penalties as well as incentives to build support are recommended.
In many cities, private trees dominate urban tree canopy cover, but densification often means fewer private trees and diminishing urban tree canopy cover. Local governments use several mechanisms to protect trees on private land, but their strengths and weaknesses are not well understood. We review private tree protections in six local governments in metropolitan Melbourne, Australia and interview 23 urban planning and urban forest professionals to understand their perspectives on; 1) the causes of private tree removal, 2) the efficacy of significant tree registers, local laws, and planning overlays, and 3) ways to improve the protection of trees on private land. Each local government applies different mechanisms. The professionals interviewed believe these mechanisms are applied too subjectively and are undermined by exemptions, lack of enforcement, and inadequate penalties. They also believe that private landholders exaggerate tree ‘risk’ and that education programs to improve community support for private trees and their retention are critical to reverse canopy loss. More research might show how private landholders value urban trees, and how tree stewardship, better regulations and incentives could reduce tree losses.