Want To Save Your Community Money? Plant Trees.

Economic times are tough. We’re all doing what we can to save money. Including trees.

At The Wilson Quarterly, Jill Jonnes writes that while trees are beautiful, we shouldn’t just think of them as decoration. They’re vital and money-saving parts of our public infrastructure:

In 2006, [scientist Gregory] McPherson and his colleagues were adding Queens as a reference city when the New York Parks Department asked them to value all of New York City’s 592,000 street trees. With the advances made over the preceding dozen years, McPherson could deliver a far more sophisticated report than he had for Chicago. Energy savings: New York City’s trees annually saved roughly $28 million, or $47.63 per tree. Air pollution: Each street tree removed an average of 1.73 pounds of air pollutants per year (a benefit of $9.02 per tree), for a total of more than $5 million. The report also calculated that street trees reduced stormwater runoff by nearly 900 million gallons each year, saving the city $35.6 million it would have had to spend to improve its stormwater systems. The average street tree intercepted 1,432 gallons, a service worth $61, a figure large enough to impress cost-conscious city managers.

McPherson and his colleagues were also able to tally various benefits associated with aesthetics, increased property values and economic activity, reduced human stress, and improved public health, which were estimated at $52.5 million, or $90 a tree. These drew on straight-up economic studies of real estate prices as well as social science research, which showed, for example, that hospital patients who could see a tree out the window of their room were discharged a day earlier than those without such a view. Other studies showed that shopping destinations with trees had more customers than those that didn’t, and leafy public-housing projects experienced less violence than barren ones.

All these data led to the finding that each year New York City’s street trees delivered $122 million in benefits, or about $209 a tree. As New York City’s parks and forestry officials well knew, they received $8 million a year to plant and tend street trees, and spent another $6.3 million to pay personnel. The netbenefit they were getting for all these trees was an impressive $100 million.

Learn more about why tree planting is so important and learn how to do it yourself at the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife.

Published: February 28, 2011