i-Tree Software Puts a Price Tag on Trees To Save Them

jacaranda trees photo

Photo by lrargerich via Flickr Creative Commons

What are city trees really worth? Just how much of a contribution do they make to cityscapes, and how can we calculate the pricetag? A software program called i-Tree helps to save urban trees by pinpointing their value. Created by the US Forest Service, the program hammers out cost-benefit calculations to quantify the contribution trees make in urban environments.The software program is in part a way to save trees by pointing out the contribution they make to cities and towns. Too often trees are invisible, or worse, viewed as a problem because of their root structures impacting pipe systems or their overhanging branches causing any number of issues. However, they do indeed have value, and the US Forest Service wants to show numbers and place tangible values on contributions like cleaning our air, filtering our water, providing habitat to important animal species, and so on.

Gizmag notes that the latest version 3.0 has two analysis tools, and three assessment programs:

* i-Tree Eco uses field data from various trees along with meteorological data and air pollution to quantify the urban forest structure, environmental effects and the value to the local community
* i-Tree Streets quantifies the economic value of a municipality's street trees by calculating the environmental and aesthetic benefits
* i-Tree Species advises urban foresters on the most suitable tree species to plant based on the geographic area and the function it is intended for
* i-Tree Storm provides an assessment tool for potential storm damage in the area, whilst also providing information on time and money needed to mitigate the damage
* i-Tree Vue (Beta) uses land cover data maps to assess local land cover, tree canopy and the subsequent services provided to the ecosystem and potential planting scenarios can also be modeled
* The Forest Service is also working on i-Tree Hydro which is designed to simulate the effects of changes in tree and canopy cover on watershed, stream flow and water quality

The free software program has been used by communities, from non-profits to schools, to illustrate and understand how urban forests need to be valued. For example, according to Gizmag, the New York City Parks Department used i-Tree to determine that the nearly 600,000 street trees in its five boroughs provide an annual benefit of US$122 million, justifying the cost of maintaining them since their benefit adds up to five times the amount invested in caring for them. The Pacific Northwest Research Station even showed how trees help the housing market since street trees help boost sale prices.

Thanks to i-Tree, urban trees have tangible value, which has translated into more trees being planted and maintained in cities.

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