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Showcasing the value of trees on Arbor Day

Some people, like Edith Makra Kusnierz, a community tree advocate at the Morton Arboretum near Chicago, take Arbor Day very seriously.

That’s why the Morton Arboretum partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to encourage city officials and the public to “plant and protect more trees because they provide measurable benefits,” reports Patty Hastings in an article in Medill Reports, a publication of the Medill School at Northwestern University, Chicago. To showcase these benefits, they tagged trees with environmental benefits price tags. To get this data, they used the National Tree Benefit Calculator, a computer model based on 25 years of research by the U.S. Forest Service and partner companies, including The Davey Tree Expert Co. Scott Maco, a Davey expert and research urban forester, discussed the calculator and trees’ benefits, such as increasing home value, in the article.

“In general, people are really surprised that you can put a dollar value on trees,” Kusnierz says in the article. “It’s a bit of an eye catcher, and people stop and think.”

Read the story below or in Medill Reports. – Nicole Wisniewski

Chicago area trees tagged with eco-dollar value

by Patty Hastings April 29, 2011

In celebration of Arbor Day, the Morton Arboretum in Lisle tagged hundreds of trees with the dollar amount each tree will give back to the community in environmental and socio-economic benefits over the next 15 years.

A 30-inch ash tree near a large commercial business, for instance, provides $3,285 in benefits over 15 years. The benefits include improved air quality, cooling and shading, stormwater control, increased property values and the intangible asset of beauty.

“We take Arbor Day very seriously,” said Edith Makra Kusnierz, community tree advocate at the Morton Arboretum. 

The Morton Arboretum partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to encourage the public and decision makers to plant and protect more trees because they provide measurable benefits.

“In general, people are really surprised that you can put a dollar value on trees,” Kusnierz said. “It’s a bit of an eye catcher and people stop and think.”

The Morton Arboretum, a 1,700-acre tree conservatory, shows that investing in planting, mulching and pruning trees has high paybacks. Downtown Chicago can be tough on trees. Outside of the parks, the central city is the harshest environment for growing trees and lacks readily available patches of soil.

However, Illinois is the state with the second most “tree cities.” Tree City USA, a national program sponsored by the National Arbor Day Foundation, invests at least $2 per person in trees. A small community or a campus program can be a tree city and Illinois boasts 188 with 28 in Chicago alone.

“Trees are everywhere so people think they’re ubiquitous, but they actually do a lot of work for us in terms of all those environmental benefits they give back,” said Alison Biernadski, spokeswoman for the Morton Arboretum.

Trees provide the biggest bang for their buck by providing benefits:

Control stormwater runoff

Trees reduce pollutants in runoff — chemicals such as oil and gasoline that wash from the surfaces of roadways into waterways — by holding rain on leaves, branches and bark and by absorbing rain through its root system. Trees also reduce soil erosion by intercepting the rainfall before it hits the soil. Evergreen trees are the most valuable trees for controlling stormwater, Kusnierz said.

Increase property value

“People are willing to pay more for a property with trees,” said Scott Maco with the Davey Tree Expert Company in Kent, Ohio. The company helped create the Tree Benefit Calculator the Morton Arboretum is using.   

Different trees add different values. Large, well-maintained trees are found to be the most value such as white oak, sugar maple and hickory trees, said Kusnierz. About one percent of the resale value of a medium home can be attributed to a single, large tree in front of it, said Maco. A tree that grows faster will offer more of a payback.

Cut down on energy usage

Illinois burns up the third largest amount of energy in the nation, with 1.6 percent of this energy coming from renewable sources. Trees, however, can cut energy costs. Their shade reduces the amount of heat building absorb. They also slow down winds, reducing the amount of heat lost.

Improve air quality

Trees absorb air pollutants, including ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide through the leaves and intercept particulate matter like dust, ash and smoke.

“The tree doesn’t eat it or make it go away. It traps it so it’s no longer airborne,” Kuzneirz said.

Trees with rough surface leaves, such as elm trees, filter out small particulates and reduce carbon dioxide.

“Those chemicals when present in the environment are cooked in a hot environment, making it more of a threat,” Kusnierz said.

Trees lower air temperature, reducing the production of ozone.

Strengthen communities

Shoppers report more frequent shopping trips, longer shopping trips and roughly 12 percent more spending in tree-lined commercial districts, according to the Tree Benefit Calculator. Studies show that areas with more trees decrease crime, said Maco.

“Trees bring people together in neighborhoods,” Maco said. “Communities are more prosperous.”

Trees also are tagged in downtown Chicago in Millennium Park, Exelon Plaza, City Hall, Randolph Street and State Street along with the Yorktown Mall in Lombard and at the Morton Arboretum.

People can take a picture of the code on the tags with their smart phones and get connected to a page explaining how the value was calculated. They can also use the calculator to find the annual value of trees in their own yard. The program runs through May 13.

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