Press Releases

For Immediate Release: Openlands Learns Hundreds Of Live Trees Removed By City Of Chicago

April 26, 2016

CONTACT:    Brandon Hayes, 312-863-6260/312-479-0819,
(Media inquiries only)


***City’s Current Backlog of Requests to Remove Dead, Standing Trees Tops 3,000***

***Live Tree Removals Occurred on Saturdays During Overtime Hours***

Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Openlands has learned that the City of Chicago Bureau of Forestry removed at least 141 live and healthy treesmost averaging between 50 and 100 years oldbetween mid-2014 and February 2016 in the 13th and 23rd Wards, represented by Alderman Marty Quinn and Alderman Michael R. Zalewski, respectively. This minimum number does not include all of the live and healthy trees removed, based on discrepancies between the information uncovered in the FOIA requests and visual inspection of the removal sites. Openlands staff has determined that at least 300 live and healthy trees were removed. Most of the removals occurred on Saturdays during overtime hours while the City of Chicago has a backlog of 3,471 requests to remove thousands of dead, standing trees. The removals run counter to commitments to healthy trees in the City made by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration and found on the Bureau of Forestry website and in the City’s Tree Protection Guidelines.

Citizen volunteers in the Openlands TreeKeepers program and other City of Chicago residents first alerted Openlands staff about the tree removals. Openlands approached the Department of Streets and Sanitation and the Office of the Mayor in September 2015, which led to a meeting between Openlands staff, Alderman Quinn, and the Office of the Mayor in February. At the meeting, the Mayor’s office agreed to restrain live and healthy tree removal to 20 trees per Ward/per year while the office considered Openlands’ request for an executive order that establishes a public/private Tree Commission, disallows removals of any live and healthy trees, and places fees collected as compensation for removing trees into a tree planting fund. On April 19, the Mayor’s office indicated a desire to continue removing live and healthy trees.

A timeline of when and how Openlands learned about the tree removals follows at the end of this release.

The benefits of public trees are stated on the City’s website:

  • Improved Air Quality
  • Reduction of Emissions
  • Reduction of Smog
  • Reduction of Green House Gasses
  • Reduction of the “Urban Heat Island” Effect
  • Noise Abatement
  • Increased Psychological Well Being
  • Improved Aesthetics
  • Increased Property Values
  • Provision for Wildlife Habitat
  • Storm Water Attenuation


“The City is spending valuable resources killing healthy trees,” said Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann. “The trees in Chicago’s parks and on the parkways along Chicago streets belong to all of the citizens of Chicago. Collectively, these trees comprise our urban forest. Just as citizens would not request a tree to be cut down in a public park, so too should the trees on our public streets be protected.”

“Chicago has a canopy cover of less than 20%, which trails most other cities in the country,” said Openlands Regional Forester Daniella Pereira. “Neighborhoods in the 13th Ward have canopy cover of less than 10%. They have the most impervious surfaces and highest median temperatures in the summer. Consequently, these neighborhoods have been identified as urban heat island ‘hot spots’ and sorely need the benefits that mature trees provide.”

“As we face the loss of 13 million ash trees to the emerald ash borer in the Chicago region, we cannot afford to remove healthy trees when we can avoid it, because they deliver so many benefits to the community,” added Gerry Donnelly, President and CEO of The Morton Arboretum.

Openlands and Chicago’s Trees

Since 1991, volunteer TreeKeepers—trained and supported by Openlands—have provided tree care and advocacy for trees in the Chicago region. TreeKeepers provide “eyes and ears on the ground” year round in neighborhoods all over Chicago to identify potential tree-related problems and to lead neighbors in tree planting and tree care.

Founded in 1963, Openlands is one of the nation’s oldest and most successful metropolitan conservation organizations, having helped secure, protect, and provide public access to more than 55,000 acres of land for parks, forest preserves, wildlife refuges, land and water greenway corridors, and urban gardens. For more information, please visit


July-August, 2014: Openlands TreeKeepers and other residents of the 13th and 23rd Wards contact Openlands staff with questions about City crews and “Madigan-Quinn chop trucks” removing live, healthy trees from their neighborhoods on weekends.

September 25, 2014: Openlands submits Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Bureau of Forestry (BOF) for 1) “311” tree and stump removal requests, 2) Aldermanic Menu (discretionary funds allotted to Aldermen) requests for tree removals and 3) all work crew sheets for weekend tree removals. BOF provides 311 records, but no Aldermanic Menu or work crew records on October 2. Aldermanic Menu requests may not include live tree removals.

October 16, 2014: Openlands submits revised FOIA request to BOF with more specific language. On November 25, 2014, BOF provides crew sheets and invoices for all weekend work—including both emergency removals and Alderman-requested removals. These records show that between August 1 and October 18, 2014, BOF crews removed 91 live trees from within the 13th and 23rd Wards at an expense of $38,074.96. Openlands uncovers no evidence of a “Madigan-Quinn chop truck.” Records indicate no future live tree removals. BOF provides no answers about the source of tree removal expenses.

June 20, 2015:  Openlands staff and TreeKeepers observe and document at least 32 more live tree removals in the 13th and 23rd Wards. Openlands staff conducts additional analyses of 311 data on stump/removal requests and investigates source of “Special Saturday Tree Removal” funds. No connections are established outside the Department of Streets and Sanitation.

September 30, 2015:  Openlands writes a letter to Department of Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Williams expressing concern about tree removal activities in 13th and 23rd Wards. Commissioner Williams’ October 17 response does not address Openlands’ concerns.

January 30 – February 11, 2016:  TreeKeepers and Openlands staff document that 50 more live trees are removed from the 13th Ward. Openlands submits another FOIA request that confirms these numbers.

February 12, 2016: Jerry Adelmann and Daniella Pereira from Openlands meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chief of Staff, Eileen Mitchell; Chief of Policy and Strategic Planning, David Spielfogel; Chief Sustainability Officer, Chris Wheat; Alderman Quinn, and Director of Regional Programs, Joe Deal. The Mayor’s office agrees to hold off on cutting more trees in the 13th ward until they are able to respond to Openlands’ request for an executive order that 1) establishes a public/private Tree Commission, 2) disallows removals of any live and healthy trees, and 3) places fees collected as compensation for removing trees into a tree planting fund.

April 19, 2016: The Mayor’s office has not acted on any requests made by Openlands. The office expresses a willingness to continue removing live trees in the 13th Ward and offers to replace mature trees with saplings.

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