Trees & Defensible Space

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Defensible Space

Many tree removal projects are for fire safety and you can contact your fire protection agency for permitting and a complete defensible space evaluation. The Living with Fire Guide for the Lake Tahoe Basin is the authoritative guide for vegetation management and wildfire preparedness on properties in the Tahoe Basin. All environmental and fire agencies in the Region agree on the recommendations in this guide, which is published by the University of Nevada, Cooperative Extension. A list companies that do tree removal, defensible space, and landscaping work in the Tahoe Basin and have attended TRPA’s annual contractor workshop is available here.

When is a Tree Removal Permit Required?

Use these guidelines to determine if a TRPA Tree Removal Permit is needed.


If applying online you will also need to sign and submit a Tree Removal Application Authorization Form (click here to download).

Tree removal for defensible space can be permitted by your local fire protection agency as well. Fire District Map

Tree Size

If the house is not along the lakeshore, a permit is required to remove live trees greater than 14 inches diameter at breast height (DBH). (See diagram below for how to accurately determine the diameter of a tree.)

If the house is along the lakeshore, a permit is required to remove trees greater than 6 inches DBH between the house and the Lake, or trees greater than 14 inches DBH that are not between the house and the Lake.

Trees of any size that were planted or retained as part of a permit, or that are in a Stream Environment Zone (SEZ) or backshore area, require a permit for removal. (The backshore area is the sensitive area adjacent to the Lake.)

Dead Trees

A conifer is considered to be dead when it doesn’t have any green needles. A deciduous tree must be determined to be dead by a qualified forester. Removal of a dead tree that could fall on a house does not require a permit. To remove a dead tree that isn’t near a house, contact a TRPA forester to determine if a permit is required.

Substantial Trimming

A permit is required for removal of branches from the upper 2/3 of the total height of the tree, unless the branch:

• Is within 10 feet of a chimney outlet, building or deck

• Is rubbing or pulling on utility lines within your property boundary (always consult your power company before removing branches near utility lines)

• Is dead

Sensitive Areas

Any manipulation of live vegetation within SEZs or the backshore of Lake Tahoe, including trees and shrubs, requires TRPA review.

Construction Projects

Trees that are permitted for removal as part of a development project do not need a separate tree removal permit.

Defensible Space

In most cases, tree removal permits to create defensible space can be issued by your local fire district or department. Contact your fire agency for more information and to receive a defensible space evaluation.

How to Determine DBH

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DBH stands for “diameter at breast height.” Breast height is 4.5 feet off the ground, measured on the uphill side of the tree. Measure around the outside of the tree at breast height to determine the circumference, and then divide that number by 3.14 to get the diameter. A tree with a diameter of 14 inches has a circumference of 43.9 inches.

How to get a Tree Removal Permit

Save paper and time, submit a tree removal application online.

Fill out a TRPA Tree Removal Application and mail or deliver it to the TRPA office. The application can also be obtained at the TRPA front counter, or by calling 775-588-4547.

A $53 non-refundable filing fee is due with the application. A TRPA forester will visit the property to assess the trees and issue a permit for any marked trees.