In Defense of Trees

I’ve had a few conversations recently with Garden City residents complaining about the costs of tree maintenance and their intention to remove trees on their property. On my way around the neighborhood it seems like there’s always a large tree being taken down. But the arguments being made by my neighbors are wrong – trees are not a net expense for the average property owner. The much maligned largest trees produce the greatest net benefits.

Spider, tree, woman, girl, boy – all living words in Lenape.

I’m not going to discuss the aesthetic value of trees, despite this work stating I shouldn’t be so quick to do that. I’m not going to discuss the psychological and health benefits of trees though there’s ample research into this. I’m not going to discuss the ethical issue of trees, although the Lenape teachers of my class have repeatedly noted that trees, flowers, squirrels, deer and humans are all treated the same by the language and all addressed by he/she verb forms. To the Lenape they are members of the community.

This blog is focused on the quantified cash benefits of trees to the property owners. But first, it must be said that trees combat many of the issues that residents complain about regularly. Trees reduce crime (mostly by making people more willing to spend time outside, which deters crime). Trees reduce particulate pollution like the kind produced by the Chester incinerator by absorbing it. Trees also reduce other forms of pollution such as ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide and thereby improve resident’s health. Trees reduce water runoff – a problem in many parts of our township. The runoff issues are only going to get worse as southeast Pennsylvania is destined to get more rainfall as the climate changes. A tree can store 50-100 gallons of water in a storm event before saturating. Trees also reduce soil erosion. Trees sequester carbon – at least during their lifetime – which reduces the effects of climate change. So in terms of benefiting our community, trees do in many ways. This is a nice handout I found from New York summarizing some of these benefits.

Street tree on Maple Rd.

The benefits I want to quantify here are economic. I’m getting these numbers from this piece by the USDA. Tree’s primary method of saving residents money is by lowering the temperature around their home during the summer and blocking the wind during the winter. Trees lower the temperature in the summer not only by shading your house, but also through evaporation and blocking the wind from driving hot air against your house. Individual trees can provide a reduction of about 5 F in their vicinity, and larger wooded areas can reduce the temperature by as much as 9 F. In the winter tree windbreaks can reduce heating costs by as much as 10-12%. The article states that optimally you’d plant trees on the east and west sides of your house for the most benefit (as you want sunlight in the winter from the south to heat your house). Trees also improve property values. The guide linked to above states that ample trees increase property values by 3-7 percent.

Our Red Maple, the first tree we planted here.

Trees do cost money to plant, maintain and ultimately remove. The study above takes those costs into account, and produces the following results over 40 years,

$320 (yard) and $364 (public) for a small tree
$1849 (yard) and $2066 (public) for a medium tree
$4261 (yard) and $4531 (public) for a large tree
$855 (yard) and $1322 (public) for a conifer

The net benefits are pretty substantial, and the larger the tree species, the greater the net benefits. And from a township perspective, tree planting seems an even better investment since the township purchases the trees at a discount twice a year and the township’s Shade Tree Commission plants them for free (with help from a township employee or two). The problem is that the costs are obvious to owners (you have to buy the tree, hire the maintenance company, etc.), but the benefits can be hard to analyze. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. So please, consider planting more trees among the tree streets.

Categories: Ramblings