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Municipal laws govern pruning, removing trees

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

As we all know, trees provide many benefits aside from their natural beauty. They breathe in carbon dioxide and release oxygen; they provide habitats for birds and other wildlife; they reduce water runoff and erosion; they absorb sound and reduce noise pollution; they provide welcome shade during the summer months.

For any of several reasons, however, it may become desirable or necessary to prune or remove a tree from one’s property. The tree may be diseased or dead, its roots may be damaging sidewalks or walls, it may pose some risk to inhabitants or passersby, or it may be unsightly or in the way. In San Miguel, trimming or removing a tree is not a simple matter of getting out the saw and starting to work. Even on private land a tree is considered the property of the municipality, under the direction of the Department of Ecology, and a procedure must be followed before trees can be cut back or removed by city workers.

The permit process

Ernesto Berra, Environmental Coordinator and International Liaison of Ecology, said that the process of requesting pruning or removal of a tree is simple. Those interested in this service can go directly to the Ecology Department, located at city hall on Boulevard de la Conspiración, to fill out a “form for pruning, removal or transplant.” The form asks for personal information such as name, address and telephone number and a small map to help the inspector find the location.

An inspector will then come to the property to assess the condition of the tree and propose a solution. The report is handed over to personnel of the Ecology Department, who later send it to the legal area for a final decision. After this, the document is sent to the customer service area, where the landowner can pick it up. Berra commented that the costs for pruning or removal are set forth in the law of incomes and expenditures of the municipality.

Having a tree trimmed costs approximately 100 pesos; removal costs twice that amount, and about 20 small trees must be donated to the municipality.

The regulations of parks and gardens also state that the tree inspectors must identify themselves with a credential issued by the municipality or the Department of Ecology and the landowner can have two witnesses present during the inspection. The paperwork presented by the inspector must contain the inspector’s name, name and address of the landowner, the area to inspect, some legal regulations for the inspection or verification, and the name and signature of the authority issuing the document.

On private land, the owner must cover the expenses of pruning, but according to the regulations “when the economic conditions of the applicant warrant it or it is an emergency situation, the authority will decide if the service is performed by personnel of the department and the service will be free.”

When an authorization for removal has been granted by the municipality, the remains of the tree will be hauled away by the Ecology Department to be recycled. The landowner must donate 15 to 20 small trees (native species) 1.5 or 2 meters high, which will be cared for at the municipal nursery. In the case of pruning, this requirement does not apply.

The trees handed over to the municipality may be donated by the Ecology Department to public institutions such as schools or to private residents for forestation or reforestation. Residents can request trees from the nursery by petitioning the director, and the department will decide whether the applicant fulfills the requirements to guarantee that the trees will grow safely.

Appeals, punishments and fines

Those who disagree with the result of an inspection can make an appeal to the Department of Ecology within three days after receiving the department’s decision. The applicant must present the disagreement appeal along with supporting evidence in order to obtain a different result. Those who illegally prune or removal trees could be fined the equivalent of between 20 and 20,000 days of minimum salary, or could even be arrested for 36 hours. The regulation states that the fine can be exchanged for days of community service.

Juárez and BicentennialParks

The main green space in San Miguel de Allende is Parque Juárez, where, according to Berra, reforestation and pruning have recently been performed. Berra said that the pruning helps dissuade flocks of egrets from roosting in the trees. The birds’ excrement, he said, produces a bad odor and is killing the plants below the trees. (Recently, a schedule for visiting the park has been instituted following acts of vandalism and sculptures robberies. For more information on this, see page 25 in this issue of Atención).

The Bicentennial Park, located on the Road to Dr. Mora, is under the authority of the Department of Ecology. It contains 10,000 trees and is open to the general public from 8am to 4pm. Berra commented that when the park was handed over to the department a year and a half ago, there was insufficient water in the area to guarantee the survival of the trees, and 500 trees had died. Those species, which were not native to this area, also suffered from exposure to low winter temperatures. The park covers 13 hectares and now has nine different species of native trees growing in it. A bandshell is currently under construction in the park.

Additional information

The Parks and Gardens Regulation was approved by the city council on June 15, 2011, and published on September 9 of the same year. Helio Bastién, director of Ecology, commented that “San Miguel de Allende was the first city in the country to have these kinds of regulations.” The lengthy set of regulations can be downloaded (in Spanish) from the municipal government website at  or can be requested at the departmental office. Those expats who need information in English will be served by Ernesto Berra, Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4pm; the information can be given by telephone. If he is not in the office an appointment will be scheduled for those interested.

Why is so important the planting of native species?

Mario Hernández, director of Charco del Ingenio, said that the planting of native species such as: huizaches, mezquites, ocotillo, palo dulce, bricho or Santa Anita,  have several vantages, due to the trees are “programmed” for acknowledging the weather, height of the region, the soil and even the rainy season. These trees, except the huizache and mesquite, have a plus, “along the year they produce beautiful flowers with nice odors” commented Mario. These species from the region, are strongly resistant to different plagues and do not produce them.

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