Trees are Valuable

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, June 23, 2000

There's a two-plus acre lot for sale in Bridgeport, on Old Town Road near the junction of heavily-traveled Routes 8 and 25. A real estate broker suggested that the owners "clean up" the wooded lot so that prospective buyers could "see the land." The owners clear cut the parcel, removing over 60 trees, many of them more than two feet in diameter. This land may sell sooner, or it may not, but Bridgeport and the surrounding neighborhood lost many environmental services provided by those trees.

Trees moderate climate. They provide cooling in summer and warmth in winter, while they sequester carbon that would otherwise contribute to the greenhouse effect. Trees slow down the flow of rain into the soil and filter it with their roots, helping to build water reserves and avoid damaging runoff. Trees clean the air and protect and build topsoil while they also provide flood control services, wildlife habitat and physical beauty.

The non-profit organization American Forests has estimated that the value of just four of the environmental services which each living tree provides is $273 dollars per year. One tree is worth $50 for air pollution control services, $75 for erosion and storm water control, $73 for summer cooling and $75 for wildlife shelter. Since the values for other beneficial services weren't calculated and the figures haven't been adjusted for half a decade's inflation, these numbers are conservative.

These services are especially valuable in urban areas where air pollution is greater, where acres of asphalt send stormwater straight into sewers as demand for water increases, and where the "heat island effect" raises summer temperatures.

Using American Forests' figures, those 60 trees on two acres in Bridgeport provided more than $16,000 worth of free environmental services each year, while the lot itself produced about $3,000 in annual taxes.

On a larger scale, a proposed electric power plant in Oxford provides another dramatic example of the value of trees. Builders of this large, hotly-contested gas-fired plant want to cut down 4,000 trees! These trees currently provide services worth more than $1.1 million per year, every year. If the trees are removed, these services will be lost just when, ironically, the need for them increases as a result of the power plant's production of tons of air pollutants and lots of waste heat while it gulps groundwater for cooling.

It is time we took the value of trees far more seriously in our development plans. The more trees we cut down, the more valuable the remaining ones become.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 2000 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.