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a man in a tree severing a branch. featured image is a blog post about how to get the D49 tree service license

What is a Tree Service Contractor?

man in a tree trimming limbs from branches.

"A tree service contractor prunes trees, removes trees, limbs or stumps (including grinding) and engages in tree or limb guying" - CSLB.GOV

The C-61/D-49 is the classification required in the state of California for all persons looking to contract for tree service projects where the cost of labor and materials exceeds $500

C-61 Limited Specialty License

  • The C-61 Limited Specialty License is an umbrella term for all licenses that may fall under a more obscure category of construction work. 
  • They cover specific areas of construction and construction-related tasks.
  • Often if your skill set or business is limited to one particular portion of trade work, you could obtain a C-61 limited specialty license to contract over $500 for your services legally.

Typical duties associated with Tree Service

A tree service contractor putting a large tree limb into a wood chipper

Tree service contractors typically engage in:

  • Tree trimming, cutting, moving and removal
  • Stump grinding and brush clearing
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    Disposal of leaves and branches
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    Traffic Control and line marking
  • Pruning and shaping
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    Using log loaders, stump grinders, wood chippers, and chainsaws
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    Scaling trees using climbing spikes
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    Bidding, estimating and accounting
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    Maintaining a safe job site

If you offer a wider range of landscaping services, you may get the C-27 Landscaping Contractor license.

What is a Subcontractor?

Due to the nature of the trade, tree service contractors typically work in a residential setting, with a commercial property owner or local government agencies.

However, they may also function as a subcontractor to a company that holds the C-27 Landscaping License or to a General Contractor.

The Contractor would oversee that the tree trimming phase of the project has been executed safely.

Check out this article for an in-depth look at the General Contractor License!

CSLB

Logo of the contractors state license board. Logo features a paint brush, hand saw, and cement truck with the letters CSLB above written in white

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is the governing body for all contractors in the state of California.

Their sole responsibility is to protect the consumer public. 

They ensure that anyone charging over $500 for construction services is qualified and registered with the state.

  • The CSLB issues the sandblasting contractor license in the state of California.
  • The CSLB has a state wide task force that conducts sting operations targeting unlicensed construction activity.
  • Getting caught contracting without a license in California is punishable with fines up to $15,000 and 6 months in the the county jail.

Tree Service License Check

The CSLB maintains a database of all active and inactive contractor license numbers in the state of California.

If you are looking to get the status of a tree service contractor you can check any number license number here.

D-49 Tree Service License Requirements

To get a tree service license in California, you must prove a minimum of 4 years journeyman level experience and pass a two part state exam with the Contractor State License Board.

To qualify for an exam date you must meet the the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid Driver's License or USA Issued Identification
  • Have a Social Security or ITIN #
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    Not Currently be on probation or parole

You must also have:

  • 4 Years Journey Level Experience
  • A Qualifying Individual to sign off on your experience
  • A way to prove your experience if the state asks for documentation

What is a Journey level experience?

A tree service contractor standing on a branch cutting limbs of a tree with a chainsaw. To get the tree service license you must prove 4 years journey level experience

Journeyman level experience means that you have worked unsupervised full time for a tree service company, or for a contractor that holds the D-49 Tree Service License.

  • A journeyman can perform all of the duties associated with his or her trade.

The CSLB will want to see four full-time years over the last ten years. The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be four years in total. 

Signature of a Qualifying Individual

The following people may be used as Qualifying Individuals to sign off on your experience when applying for the tree service license:

  • Licensed General Contractor
  • C-61/D-49 License Holder
  • Fellow Employee (within the last 10 years)
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    Former Supervisor (within the last 10 years)
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    Business Associate
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    Fellow Journeyman
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    Union Representative

Filling out the Tree Service License Application

Your Qualifying Individual will also need to provide a brief but detailed description of your knowledge and skillset.

The way this description is written will be critical to whether or not your application is accepted. For example:

“Jake is a nice guy and very experienced” is not descriptive enough.

The CSLB will want to see something like: "Jack has operated wood chippers, chainsaws, stump grinders, has worked in residential and commercial settings. He has done tree trimming and removal" etc.


The description written by your qualifying individual will need to include the core skills required for the tree service license.

Work experience for the Tree Service License

A man waring a hard hat using a chainsaw to cut a tree branch. The CSLB may request documentation proving your experience before you can take the exam for your tree service license

You must be prepared to submit documentation supporting the experience you claim to have. 

The Contractors State License Board gives you a few ways that you can prove your experience which include:

  • Tax Returns
  • Check Stubs
  • Contracts
  • Material Order Invoices or Receipts

The CSLB  receives thousands of applications per month so there is a good chance they won’t document your experience but if you are one of the applicants that get reviewed you will need to be ready to submit something. 

The CSLB does not accept pictures of projects.

Application Processing, Fees and Criminal History

The time it takes to get your application processed and assigned a test date fluctuates throughout the year. Typically you can expect:

  • 6-8 Week Application Processing Time
  • 3-4 Week wait for an Exam date

I have seen some situations where applicants got their test date sooner and some where they got their test date much later.

The most common reasons your application would get held up are:

  1. Time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays) 
  2. Criminal History 
  3. Proving Experience
  4. Mistakes on your application 

State Fees

The Current CSLB fees are: 

Can you get a Contractors License with a Felony in California?

a wooden gavel laying on top of a wooden platform. when applying for the tree service license, you should be 100% honest about your criminal history

Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting a Tree service contractor License. I have personally helped guys with all types of criminal records obtain multiple licenses.

The key is to be honest on the application, even if the felony or misdemeanor happened years ago and even if it was expunged.

BE 100% HONEST ON THE APPLICATION, because they will see everything anyway when you do fingerprinting. The CSLB handles criminal records on a case by case basis.

Remember, their responsibility is to protect the public. 

Fraud, Embezzlement and Forgery

In my experience, the CSLB are primarily concerned with criminal charges dealing with fraud, embezzlement, forgery, and financial related crimes.

If your conviction does not fall under these categories most likely, you will have no issues when applying for the tree service license. 

Be prepared to submit any court documents or prove rehabilitation at the state’s request. California requires you to divulge all criminal charges when applying for a state license even if they have been expunged.

The Contractor License Exam

Contractor licenses are broken down into four categories:

1) A-General Engineering

2) B-General Building

3) C-Specialty classes

4) C-61 / D-Limited Specialty classes

Each category of license except the D-Limited Specialty license class requires that you pass a TRADE exam. C-61 Classification licenses do not have trade portions.

You must only pass a LAW exam. The exam is:

  • 115 Questions on Contractor LAW
  • 3 Hours to complete
  • Multiple choice, taken on a computer
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    Closed Book

The Law Examination is divided into eight major sections:

1. Business Organization (10%)

  •  Company organization
  •  Project organization

2. Business Finances (15%)

  • Cash management
  • Budget and planning
  • Taxes
  • Financial reporting

3. Employment Requirements (12%)

  • Employment regulations
  • Evaluation and record-keeping
  • Payroll

4. Bonds, Insurance, and Liens (10%)

  • Bonds
  • Workers’ compensation insurance
  • Liens and other remedies
  • Other insurance

5. Contract Requirements and Execution (23%)

  • Bidding
  • Cost control
  • Contracts
  • Payments

6. Licensing Requirements (8%)

  • Business license
  • Contractor’s license
  • Activity regulation

7. Safety (15%)

  • Training and reporting requirements
  • General safety
  • Hazardous/unknown materials

8. Public Works (7%)

  • Prevailing wage requirements
  • Bonding requirements
  • Insurance requirements

Learn more about Contractor License Law!

CSLB Test Locations

  • Berkeley
  • Fresno
  • Norwalk
  • San Jose
  • Oxnard
  • Sacramento
  • San Bernardino
  • San Diego
  • The CSLB will assign you a testing center based on your location 
  • The test is not available online 
  • The CSLB allows you to bring a pre-approved translator with you 
  • The CSLB will grant you 18 months after your application is accepted to pass the examination 
  • You must wait three weeks before retaking the state exam ($60 per retake)

D-49 Contractor License Study Guides and Practice Tests

a tree service contractor suspended into the air cutting a tree
  • Getting your tree service contractors license is a smooth process if you have the right information. 
  • It can be confusing to see un-familiar terms used to describe tools or job site practices. The Contractor LAW exam covers a number of different topics.
  • Questions are presented to you as if you are running a large scale remodeling business with multiple employees.
  • Being prepared and knowing what to study is the most important thing you can do in ensuring your success on the contractor license exam

Landscaping Apprenticeships

Generally someone looking to become a tree service contractor would want to look into an apprenticeship for find an experienced person to work with.

For a detailed explanation on this process, check out my article: Apprentice vs Journeyman!

OSHA Certification

Statistically, 21% of all work-related fatalities are in construction. That equals about 1 and 5 worker deaths on average. Professionals in the landscaping and tree removal industry must take pre-caution to prevent falls and injury.

featured image for a blog post about OSHA certifications for tree service contractors

Tree Removal can be dangerous, especially if your workers are not properly trained.

For employment with a tree removal contractor you may be required that you have completed some level of OSHA training.

 Learn more about OSHA Training.

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