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Trees offer all kinds of green

Read the story below or click here to see it in full as it was published on STL Today's website.

Published: April 17, 2013

Trees growing along municipal streets offer more than just shade and beauty. They also have benefits that can translate into dollars.

Some benefits include lower energy costs because of the shade; homes with large trees sell for more money; leaves help hold storm water, lowering the amount of runoff into the sewers.

That was the message during Thursday's community forestry workshop at the Powder Valley Nature Center in Kirkwood. The Missouri Department of Conservation hosted the workshop, which featured the release of a 30-year survey of 44 cities' use of street trees.

Street trees are on public property between the curb and the sidewalk. The survey did not cover private or park lands.

“People who love trees have a spiritual connection with them,” said Skip Kincaid, a senior consulting urban forester with the Davey Resource Group. “However, when you talk with municipal leaders, you can't just talk about the joy. It costs money to maintain trees, and they need to see a practical result.”

The DOC hired Davey Resource to compile the survey data and make the presentation at 10 workshops throughout Missouri.

The company uses a computer program it developed called iTree to figure out the financial benefit of trees. The program is used by the Missouri DOC and other states, Kincaid said.

The program takes into account species, location, trunk diameter, maintenance and condition. It then comes up with a dollar figure. For example, a cypress tree in Crestwood with a 12-inch trunk annually offers the equivalent of $20 in benefits.

St. Louis City has about 90,000 street trees. Since 1990 when the survey started, Davey Resource estimated the trees annually provide about $4.4 million in benefits. However, it costs about $3.47 million to maintain them.

“It's not cheap, but it shows a higher benefit ratio against cost,” Kincaid said. “If you can show that, it's enough for a city council to approve more trees. Cities aren't going to plant trees if it costs them money.”

More and more municipalities are seeing the benefits of street trees, he said. According to the survey, which also included a mailing to 650 municipalities, the amount of available space for trees has dropped from 66 percent of street space in 1989 to 44 percent in 2010.

Municipalities that have policies requiring street trees for new developments have risen from 12 percent in 2002 to 50 percent in 2011.

Fenton has such a policy, Mayor Dennis Hancock said.

“Part of it is public demand,” Hancock said. “People like trees and they want them. It's also a quality-of-life issue. There certainly is a growing awareness of the trees' benefits. More and more cities are aware of it.”

The DOC does not wish to become involved with a city's politics, said Nick Kuhn, community forestry and communication specialist.

“We want to provide this information to the community,” Kuhn said. “We'll probably continue with the survey. There's no reason why we shouldn't. The main thing is for people to know that trees have benefits.”

The last community forestry workshop is set for 2-4 p.m. Thursday, April 17, at Busch Wildlife Area, 2360 Highway D in St. Charles.

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