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Putting a price on trees

California 'street tree' benefits are valued at $1 billion
Putting a price on trees

Streets lined with gold? Not exactly, but a new report from the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station estimates trees lining Californian streets and boulevards provide benefits to municipalities and residents worth $1 billion.

A comprehensive inventory

‘Structure, Function and Value of Street Trees in California, USA’, published in this month’s issue of Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, is the most up-to-date and comprehensive inventory of ‘street trees’ in California.

Using municipal inventories analysed in i-Tree, a computerised tree inventory and management suite, researchers were able to create a composite picture of not only the number of California’s street trees, but also their species, size, location and associated benefits.

With an estimated 9.1 million trees lining California’s streets and boulevards, it averages to about one street tree for every four residents. But according to the recently published study, room remains for another 16 million street trees to be planted, if resources allowed.

‘Sometimes it’s easy to think of trees along city streets as mere aesthetics, or worse, a nuisance with falling leaves and limbs or uprooting sidewalks.

‘But what our study shows is that these trees have a real monetary benefit to the municipalities and residents who care for them.’

Research forester and lead author

The value

From carbon storage ($10.32 million) and removal of air pollutants ($18.15 million) to interception of rainfall ($41.5 million) and energy savings from both heating and cooling ($101.15 million), California’s street trees are paying big dividends. They even bolster property values and home sale prices to the tune of $838.94 million.

‘We’ve calculated for every $1 spent on planting or maintaining a street tree, that tree returns, on average, $5.82 in benefits. These trees are benefiting their communities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.’

Research forester and lead author

A guide for urban foresters

The report also highlights trends and tree demographics McPherson and his colleagues say they hope will guide urban foresters in future decisions regarding what trees to plant and where.

For example, while the number of street trees have increased from 5.9 million in 1988, tree density has actually fallen from 105 to 75 trees per mile, nearly a 30% drop.

‘Municipal foresters can use data from this study to see how their trees compare to other cities in their climate zone or in the state. It might help allocate resources, whether it be to increase planting to address low density or species diversification, increase pruning to manage predominately younger trees for structure and form, control pests and disease or intensively manage older trees so as to not lose them prematurely.’

Research forester and lead author

While statewide species diversification appears respectable with only one species claiming more than 10% relative abundance (London planetree, at 10.5%), individually, 39 of the 49 studied communities were over-reliant on a single species, potentially making their urban forest susceptible to a species-specific disturbance or pathogen.

Click here to read Structure, Function and Value of Street Trees in California, USA.

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