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Show Me the Money!

March 16, 2011

OK, I have an experiment I'd like you to try with me.

Go outside, walk up to one of your trees, gently grab one of the lower branches and carefully uncurl one of the leaves. Now take a close look (I'm envious of those of you in the south and west who can do this now - northerners will have to wait a bit…hang in there, spring is almost here.)

Do you see something green? (Your answer should be yes.)

Take a close look at the underside of the leaf. Do you see a pattern of veins running through it? (Your answer again should be yes.)

Now, look very closely at those veins. Do you see a picture starting to emerge from the lines? Maybe an image resembling George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Or does this outline look a little more like Andrew Jackson?

While I don't expect you to actually harvest $20 bills from your favorite tree, you might as well continue to envision money stretched between the leaves. Why? Because that tree may be one of the best financial investments you've made on your property.

money grows on trees

For instance, an analysis of 844 single family homes in Athens, Ga., showed homes with an average of five trees in the front yard sold for 3.5 to 4.5 percent more than comparable homes without trees, according to Sue Izard, a regional community forestry assistant at the Idaho Community Forestry Program.

And that's just property value. Trees also help sequester carbon, boost energy savings, improve air quality and reduce stormwater runoff. In fact, Portland Parks & Recreation found Portland's trees provided $3 million in air cleaning and carbon fixing and $36 million in stormwater infrastructure cost reductions each year, as well as higher home values for both the tree owners and nearby neighbors. Additionally, they found benefits that are harder to quantify, including reduced crime rates and higher birth weights.

Want additional proof about the benefits of the specific trees on your property? Try the U.S. Forest Service's newest version of its free i-Tree software suite - version 4.0 just released March 10th. i-Tree has helped municipalities quantify the value of their trees and the environmental services trees provide. One recent i-Tree study found Minneapolis street trees provided $25 million in benefits ranging from energy savings to increased property values. But a new tool called i-Tree Design targets homeowners and school children, showing them how to calculate the value of a single specific tree based on where they place it around the property. "You actually zoom into your home from Google Maps and outline the footprint of your home and virtually plant trees around your house," explains Scott Maco, expert and research urban forester for The Davey Institute, a partner in i-Tree's creation. "As you place it in different locations around the house you can actually see its value change."

"This tool can really help homeowners appreciate the value of trees on their properties," Maco adds. "Trees enhance property values and have psychological and health benefits. Research shows looking out windows at green spaces reduces stress and lowers heart rates."

So, what do you think, does money really grow on trees? "It sort of does," Maco says.

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