According to the last census, 81 percent of Americans live in urban settings, so urban trees are the only forests most people encounter day to day.
And that’s if they are lucky enough to live or work in the forested part of a city.
“The 135 million acres of urban and community forests are perhaps the most valuable, hardest-working forests in the country,” says Paul Ries, co-chair of the Sustainable Urban and Community Forestry Coalition.
That’s a bold statement when you consider corporate forests that produce billions of board feet of timber every year or uniquely American treasures like Olympic or Yosemite national parks.
Is Ries biased? Maybe, but he also has hard numbers to back up his statement: 1.6 million jobs with an $82 billion payroll, over $5 billion in energy savings and almost $5 billion in carbon sequestered in trees.
An assessment of human health benefits puts the figure at $6.8 from urban forests in the U.S. There is no disputing that urban forests encounter the most people.
What are the benefits of the trees in your yard? There is an app for that, it turns out. Actually, there is a toolbox of different of applications, called i-Tree, to make the calculations of even more benefits and help better design the urban forest.
The one for your yard is called MyTree. You enter a few basic pieces of information about the species of tree, the diameter, roughly how far it is from your house and the app calculates how much energy the tree saves, how much pollution is removed from the air, how much carbon is stored and more.
I have a clump of three aspen on the west side of my house and they are absorbing an estimated 170 pounds of CO2 per year; save $27/year in energy costs, which avoids another 466 pounds of CO2; and intercept 2,300 gallons of rainwater, providing a $25/year benefit.
You can download the app and see what the trees in your yard provide you and your community. What the app can’t measure is the pleasure you will get from sitting in a tree’s shade, listening to the birds overhead, and the scent wafting through the air.
Mayors, city councils and neighborhoods can access more sophisticated tools for planning their urban forest to achieve these benefits. Scott Maco with the Davey Institute says, “There are tools for homeowners, teachers, professional landscape architects and city planners.”
Maco helps curate and maintain the suite of i-Tree tools developed by the U.S. Forest Service in cooperation with Davey, The Arbor Day Foundation, arborist professionals and Casey Trees.
There is a whole website dedicated to these tools and they have videos on YouTube to show you how to use them, accessed here. And there’s a YouTube video that provides an overview of the tools. After you explore these tools, you may agree with Ries about these being the most valuable, hardest-working forests in the country.
For more information, read the International Union of Forestry Research Organization’s paper, “To Build a Healthier City, Build a Better Forest” online at https://www.itreetools.org/news/articles/IUFRO-Spotlight-UrbanForests-58.pdf.