How Much Are Trees Really Worth?

Updated Aug 21, 2013
Wisconsin DNR’s Northeast Regional Analysis ProjectWisconsin DNR’s Northeast Regional Analysis Project

It’s no secret that trees provide a wealth of resources to the environment. But did you know there is a program that can actually calculate the amount of that wealth down to the last dollar?

A software analysis, i-Tree, is a tool developed by the USDA Forest Service to help determine the benefits of a tree canopy based on dollars. 

After a variety of studies, cities have seen a great deal of savings and benefits from calculating the tree canopy’s worth, including reducing stormwater runoff, lowering summer air temperatures, reducing air pollution, reducing heating and cooling costs, reducing CO2 (carbon dioxide), enhancing property values, providing wildlife habitats, improving health and wellbeing, improving learning and concentration, and providing aesthetic benefits.

i-Tree calculates the leaf surface area of a city and then determines the economic value of that canopy.

By using Google maps, the software can get a valid estimate of land cover types. The module also allows for anyone interested in planting a tree to see the effect it would have if it was planted in a particular area.

Portland, Oregon recently used the software and brought the value of the canopy to citizens’ attention, according to Governing.

Around Chapman Square in the city, each large elm tree had a “price tag”. One tag said, “This tree has given $20,000 worth of environmental & aesthetic benefits over its lifetime”.

Another study in Mesquite, Texas found some key findings in its Urban Forest Ecosystem Analysis.

i-Tree was able to determine that there were 2,091,000 trees in Mesquite, which created 24.4 percent tree cover. Because of that cover, 288 tons/year of pollution is removed ($1.54 million/year), 31,900 tons of oxygen is produced, building energy savings is $773,000/year and annual rainfall interception is 30.2 million feet/year ($2.01 million/year).

The value of a tree may have seemed impossible to measure at first, but all it took was a basic calculator to get the job done to show society just how valuable trees can be. 


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