It can take a lot of effort to plan for and grow trees. Considerations such as infrastructure, irrigation, species selection and safety are important. Land agent permission, staff training and or volunteers’ engagement and support is essential. The effort can feel huge. Yet we continue to plan, plant and care for trees with an underlying goal of a better future that includes benefits such as more shade and cleaner air.
Do you ever wonder if you are getting the most from your tree planting efforts? We make promises of “someday...” but what exactly are we advertising? What exactly is the promise of clean air, shade, health and community well-being? Can you provide evidence to support your vision and voice for a better community - for a better future? The answer is yes, you can. And it is easier than you might think.
The i-Tree Suiteis a collection of useful forestry analysis and benefits assessment tools. It was designed and developed by the United States Forest Service in partnership with many collaborating organizations to quantify and determine the value of ecosystem services provided by forests. I-Tree launched in 2006 and is an ever evolving, free, user friendly program presenting several tools that quantify the benefits of forests. Depending on the goals of your project, i-Tree Species and i-Tree Planting are two of the best applications to consider on the front end of a planting project.
i-Tree Species is designed to help select the most appropriate tree species for different regions and situations. Users have the option to select and rank the importance of environmental attributes such as air pollution removal, air temperature reduction, carbon storage, pollen allergenicity, etc. In addition to ranking each attribute for its importance, there is also the option of selecting desired height of the tree at maturity. The software will produce a list that can be a valuable starting point for tree selection. When selecting tree species to plant, it is important to consider location and cultural appropriateness. Remember, it takes about 20 years for an urban tree to optimize its eco-benefits. When well planned and cared for, the effort and eco-benefits of planting trees should last generations.
Another terrific tool within the i-Tree Suite is i-Tree Planting. No planting should be considered without it because i-Tree Planting can estimate the long-term environmental benefits of a tree planting project before the project begins. The usefulness of i-Tree Planting can be profound. Many municipalities and community urban forestry groups are implementing ambitious tree planting programs with the intention of removing air pollution, mitigating urban heat island effects, and providing other significant ecosystem services, but few are quantifying the anticipated benefits of their efforts. This is a lot of energy without an acknowledgment of the quantifiable returns. With i-Tree Planting, a tree planting project can shift from an esoteric idea of “betterment”, to a calculated summary of tangible, defendable scientific data. Funders and volunteers get excited when their efforts can be measured alongside important benefits such as the amount of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) sequestered, energy conserved, air pollutants captured and avoided stormwater filtered. i-Tree Planting contains science based tools that will enhance every tree planting project’s good intentions by quantifying the most significant eco-benefits of the trees to be grown.
In terms of getting the most out of a project, using i-Tree Planting is just as important as a shovel, and almost as easy to use. The basic data needed is tree species, size of the trees at planting, information on the distance and direction to the nearest building(s), information about the tree’s growing conditions, the number of trees to be planted and the project lifetime (number of years). With this information, i-Tree Planting program will calculate GHG sequestered and avoided (owing to reductions in energy use), energy conserved, air pollutants captured and avoided, stormwater filtered and tree above ground biomass.
I-Tree tools presents relevant data that gets to the heart of our intention and actions. We plan and grow trees for a better world, but it is not enough. Quantifying and communicating the value of our actions is essential to involve people in understanding the profound benefits of trees. In addition to a shovel, the i-Tree suite of tools presents an ideal resource to quantify and validate growing great trees and the commodity they present.
Trees are infrastructure. Using i-Tree to quantify benefits of trees allows decision makers the opportunity to budget and plan for the costs and people power it takes to manage and maintain that infrastructure long past the time a shovel helps to put the trees in the ground.