Pittsburgh Hits Pay Dirt With Its Street Trees

Pittsburgh, PA (February 18, 2013) – Tree Pittsburgh is using U.S. Forest Service i-Tree software to calculate the value of their street trees, and its getting the attention of the city and its residents. The benefits of urban forests translate into serious dollars and cents–filtering air and water, sequestering carbon, reducing the urban heat-island effect, boosting property values, and so much more.

green infrastructure photo 3After inputting raw data from the inventory in i-Tree, Tree Pittsburgh found that the city’s street trees — strictly those planted in sidewalks and medians — provided $2.4 million worth of environmental and aesthetic value every year. The values take into account energy savings from shade, impact on the city’s air and water, and the boost in property values associated with leafy neighbors.

Given the city’s annual expenditures of $850,000 on street tree planting and maintenance, Tree Pittsburgh concluded that the city received $3 in benefits for every dollar it invested in street trees. That math helped convince the city that upfront investment in trees was worthwhile, and so last summer Pittsburgh released a detailed master plan for maintaining and expanding its urban forest over the next two decades.

“The data has been extremely valuable,” said Matthew Erb, Tree Pittsburgh’s director of urban forestry. “The data is really the backbone of our master plan. Without that data, it would be kind of generic recommendations that you could apply to any city’s master plan.”

I-Tree has grown considerably more complex since its launch, yet the underlying concept remains the same: You tell us about your trees, and we’ll use various multipliers to quantify what they do for you.

For example, the program uses an estimated social cost per ton of carbon emitted in the U.S. to assign a value to the carbon sequestration performed by urban forests. And it uses a GIS-based tool from the Environmental Protection Agency called BenMAP to calculate the economic benefits of reductions in air pollution.

For i-Tree version six, due out in mid-2014, they hope to add new modules that tabulate benefits related to air temperature, ultraviolet radiation, and habitat for select bird species.

Source:  Nate Seltenrich, Tree on the Corner May Be Worth More Than Your House,” Next City (February 18, 2013)

Related Resources:
Tree Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Master Plan
Forest Service Releases Upgrades to iTree—including New Tools and a Mobile App
Tree Technology Part V: Mapping the Urban Forest
i-Tree software suite