Earth Notes: What’s a Tree Worth?

Apr 11, 2012

Trees grace our sidewalks, house birds, feed squirrels, and furnish wood for everything from campfires to fences. And the oxygen plants emit allows us to live on Earth in the first place. But now tree huggers have a new way to assess the benefits our leafy companions provide.

That tool, the National Tree Benefit Calculator, lets you put a dollar value on a living tree. For example, that big tall ponderosa pine in your front yard, a couple feet in diameter, would provide annual benefits of 131 dollars. A twelve-inch-diameter oak will yield 77 dollars of good.

The calculator, developed by the Casey Tree Foundation and an Ohio company, is on the Web at  It’s easy to use: just enter your zip code, the species of tree, its diameter, and location, and out comes a numerical value.

The calculator takes into account what a tree adds to your property value. It also figures in the ecological services trees can provide, such as stormwater remediation, improved air quality, carbon storage, and energy savings. The calculation is nothing more than an estimate, of course, but it’s one example of how people are seeking to quantify what they call the “ecosystem services” that nature provides.

You really can’t put a precise dollar amount on that favorite shady spot where you sit and daydream on long summer days, or on the beauty of an aspen’s trembling leaves. But the benefit calculator does provide a new way to appreciate what trees do for us.