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Plenty Of Laws Protect Historic Buildings, But What About Long-Standing Trees?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- There are rules to protect historic homes and buildings, but in many places no such laws exist to preserve magnificent towering trees. Carol McCullough learned that the hard way, when two large trees were removed from the lot next door in Evanston to make way for new construction.

"To me, it was heart wrenching that they were torn down," McCullough said.

McCullough was surprised to learn in Evanston, unless the land is two acres or larger, and preparing to subdivide, residential property owners are allowed to remove any tree on their property, even tall impressive ones that might be saved somewhere else.

"I think that's why people live here, is because of the trees," she said.

In Illinois, there is no statewide law regarding the removal of trees, leaving a hodgepodge of ordinances that vary from municipality to municipality.

In neighboring Wilmette, there are 17,500 trees in the village's parkways alone, thousands more on private property.

"We've got a lot of large trees because of the age of the community," Wilmette village forester Rob Wasley said.

In 2008, Wilmette developed its tree preservation plan. Residents are allowed to remove trees, but must maintain 35% canopy coverage over their property. If not, they must plant new trees to offset the loss.

"We give bonus points for those highly desirable species -- like the American elm, hickory and oak trees," Wilmette director of engineering Brigette Berger-Raish said.

Laws in other leafy communities include Hinsdale, which requires a tree preservation plan for building permits, and Highland Park, where developers must try to preserve existing trees or replant new ones at a ratio as high as four for every one tree removed.

"I just feel our house is an Evanston landmark, and we had such guidelines, and yet these trees that were so old weren't protected," McCullough said.

In a community that works hard to preserve its architecture, McCullough said Evanston's laws to protect trees should be just as strong.

Plans are in the works to strengthen Evanston's tree code, but they have yet to officially take root.

Tree laws in the City of Chicago are similar to those in Evanston, where owners may remove trees on private property with no replacements required.

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