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Columbia Missourian

Stephens Lake Park 'price tags' to show what trees are worth

By Leif Kothe
September 15, 2010 | 5:10 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Brett O’Brien wants Columbia residents to develop a different understanding of the value of trees.

O’Brien, natural resource supervisor for Columbia Parks and Recreation, will be leading a local campaign that includes hanging "price tags" on trees at Stephens Lake Park to reflect how much air pollution and carbon dioxide content can be reduced by a single tree.

The 24-by-36-inch signs will provide a monetary value of the annual net benefits that each tree provides. 

The project, financed with a $10,000 grant from the Missouri Department of Conservation, consists of three parts:

"The information from the inventory will assist us in tree preservation and maintenance needs, and the benefit analysis will indicate to us what kinds of trees are the best investments for Columbia's parks," O'Brien said.

Ann Koenig, an urban forester at the Department of Conservation, said the Tree Resource Improvement and Maintenance grant specifically supports “urban forestry.”

The department will utilize “i-Tree,” a software analysis from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. The analysis is designed to assess specific benefits of trees, such as the amount of air pollution a single tree can reduce or the amount of carbon dioxide a tree can sequester, O’Brien said.

But the benefits of trees do not end there. O’Brien said that in addition to contributing to cleaner air, trees are useful for cutting energy costs and intercepting rainwater runoff. 

“Trees don’t allow storm water to run off as fast as it would from asphalt or concrete, which are impervious surfaces that water runs off, not through,” O’Brien said. Roots are ideal for slowing and absorbing storm water runoff, and leaves catch rain drops and slow the course of water to the ground.

The environmental value of trees increases with time, as larger trees yield larger benefits, he said.

“Larger trees have a greater ability to intercept rainwater and reduce air pollution,” O’Brien said. “If there is room for larger trees, like oaks and sycamores, it is more cost beneficial in the long run to plant them.”

Ultimately, the campaign is designed to show Columbia residents the advantages of planting trees.

“We get more benefits out of trees than what we have to pay for the costs of tree care,” O’Brien said.