NDSU Extension - Mercer County

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What is a tree worth?

Trees, economic importance of trees, Tree value

Submitted by Craig Askim, Extension Agent/Agriculture and Natural Resources

Calls come in throughout the year asking about trees. Many homeowners or landowners have no clear idea what economic importance’s trees add to your property. Simply put, trees take time and labor to maintain, to grow and show their beauty. Therefore, it is important to understand the value that they carry.

Let us do a little mental exercise today.

How do we put a price tag on a tree that is growing in our yard? A boulevard tree in the community? What about a windbreak? How do we determine the value of anything?

I’m sure that my economist friends could give me technical answers about the complicated techniques involved in valuing a product or a service, or even how intrinsic value might be determined. Nevertheless, let us keep it simple.

In traditional forestry, trees often are viewed in terms of the amount of lumber that can be harvested from the stems. How many 2-by-4s can we saw from a ponderosa pine that is 80 feet tall and 28 inches in diameter? The techniques for these types of calculations are well developed and surprisingly straightforward.

However, not a whole lot of timber is being harvested on the prairie.

So what do we do now? Let us look at services. What does a tree provide us?

On a bigger scale, what services do forests provide? We can make a list: shade, wind protection, pollution abatement, and water control. Surprisingly, putting a value on those services is pretty easy. Putting a value on other services such as oxygen production, wildlife habitat or improvement of mental health is harder.

An individual tree, in the right location, can lower summer air conditioning costs by up to 30% (U.S. Forest Service). That is the equivalent of 10 room-size air conditioners running 20 hours a day! Windbreaks can lower winter heating costs on the farmstead by as much as 40% (U.S. Department of Energy). In addition, those savings accumulate year after year, and even increase, as the trees get bigger.

One study by the U.S. Forest Service showed that Bismarck’s municipal trees – those managed by the city – provide nearly a half-million dollars each year in storm water reduction. In addition, that is just the public trees; it does not include the services provided by trees on private property. For every dollar that Bismarck spends on its urban forestry program, the city reaps more than $3 in benefits.

Windbreaks, in the right locations, can serve as living snow fences. These plantings protect interstates and state highways in many areas of North Dakota. Living snow fences reduce drifting on roadways, increasing safety and reducing the need to plow out those areas following big snowstorms. How much is that worth? I have heard that the Department of Transportation can push snow for dollars per ton, or they can store it for pennies per ton by using living snow fences.

The list goes on: livestock protection in winter, taking up carbon dioxide via photosynthesis, lowering dust in the air, oxygen production. We are working on a study at NDSU to determine the early season effects of shelterbelts on honeybees. I am looking forward to finding the results.

What is a tree worth? A lot, depending on where it is located and what products or services it provides us. What is a forest worth? More than just the trees.

For more information about trees contact Craig Askim – NDSU Extension Agent, Mercer County at 701.873.5195 or email: craig.askim@ndsu.edu.

 Source: Joe Zeleznik, NDSU Extension Forester, 701.231.8143, joseph.zeleznik@ndsu.edu

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