Madison Parks Forestry


posted March 20, 2019 2:50 PM

March 20th marks the first day of spring. With the warming temperatures and sap running, residents may be thinking of maple tree tapping. However, there are three important reasons why City-owned street or Park trees should not be tapped:

It can harm the tree.

  • City life is hard for trees. There is limited space for terrace trees to grow, and the soil around the roots may be compacted or of poor quality. City trees are also exposed to urban issues like air pollution, heavy salt usage, run-off from homeowners' pesticide and fertilizer applications, etc. All of this tends to place a lot of stress on trees.
  • Tapping introduces two additional stressors – it reduces a tree's energy reserves and it creates a wound in the tree. For a healthy sugar maple tree in a forest, neither of these may cause issues and the tree can be tapped each year. For a city tree, that extra stress may cause decline.

It may spread disease.

  • A taphole is a wound, and just like in humans, it may act as an opening for disease. For instance, Verticillium wilt is a fungal infection that can spread via open wounds. If an infected tree is tapped and the tap is used on another tree without proper sanitation, then the disease can easily spread.
  • Even if the tap is not used on multiple trees, the wound can still be an entry point for opportunistic diseases or pests.

It is against City ordinance.

  • Madison General Ordinance 23.24 (Breaking, Damaging or Injuring Trees, Shrubs) tapping for sap in a maple or other type of tree is not allowed. 
  • The ordinance states that, if a resident damages a terrace tree with a diameter of more than 3", they shall be subject to a forfeiture of $155 per diameter inch.

Please help maintain our urban forest, and do not injure city-owned street or Park trees.

If you witness someone tapping trees, please contact the Forestry Office at 608-266-4816 (M-F, 7am to 3pm) or Madison Police Department, after hours. 


The Forestry section of Madison Parks provides tree planting, pruning, and maintenance for over 96,000 trees along more than 700 miles of city streets. In addition, forestry is responsible for hundreds of thousands of trees located in Madison's parks, golf courses, and cemeteries. Forestry staff takes great pride in our rigid safety standards; whether planting a new tree or cleaning up after a major storm, we are dedicated to the safety of workers, residents, and property.

Private Tree Concerns

Private trees are those not located within public parks, golf courses, cemeteries, or the city right-of-way. If your neighborhood has sidewalks, the right-of-way (also known as the terrace) is typically the area between the sidewalk and the street. If you do not have a sidewalk, the right-of-way is the space between the street and your property line. Damage to private trees is the property owner's responsibility. We recommend residents contact certified arborists for private tree needs. For more information on finding a certified arborist near you, please visit the Wisconsin Arborist Association.

If you have a concern about a private tree that is not on your property, please contact the City of Madison Building Inspection.

Replanting City-Owned Street Trees

The City of Madison uses the "Right Tree in the Right Place" best management practices supported by the International Society of Arboriculture and the Arbor Day Foundation when determining which kind of tree to plant. This criterion promotes urban forest diversity and is applied equitably throughout the city. Most trees will be replaced within three planting cycles. Forestry plants twice a year, in the spring and fall. Per Madison General Ordinance 10.10, the Forestry section determines tree type, species, and planting location. Unfortunately, residents are not permitted to request specific trees. For more information, please see our FAQs.

Door Tags

When responding to a tree concern, forestry staff will leave a door tag with information regarding inspection results and any next steps.