Gardening where the sidewalk ends

What is a Tree Worth? March 23, 2009

Filed under: Seattle,trees — greenwalks @ 10:20 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Walking down a busy street the other weekend on a family ice cream run, I saw a line of street trees that seemed to be in jail. Here’s one of them:

Protected tree

What was going on here, I’m not quite sure, but each tree was surrounded by flimsy plastic fencing and had a sign strapping-taped to its trunk. I was worried at first that they were condemnation notices, but then I took a closer look:

Protect Tree Public Notice

The City of Seattle is finally getting serious (I hope) about the decreasing canopy in town. The recent explosion in development here recently probably made this inevitable, but we’re not planting trees fast enough to keep up with the losses and the street trees that are planted often are poorly cared for and don’t make it to maturity. So, I guess the big ones are going to have to be protected by threatening a big hit to construction companies’ pockets (“treble” the sum of $7,800, in this case, is nothing to sneeze at!). But how do you determine the worth of a tree?

I’m sure they have their formulas – height, girth, estimated age, rarity of species, etc but what about the emotional value of a tree? Is it one that you’ve passed every day for years, or that you grew up climbing, or whose flowering branches you picnicked under? City street trees might not be likely to have so many associations of this kind, but I’m glad someone’s finally sticking up for them.

Valuable tree, upper portion

How doyou determine the worth of a tree?


16 Responses to “What is a Tree Worth?”

  1. Melanthia Says:

    I love seeing this. A couple years ago a beautiful canopied tree was set for demo to make room for condos on QA. The neighborhood rallied and now it remains as a main feature of the much scaled back development. Trees, especially in urban settings, are priceless.

  2. VP Says:

    Intriguing question – my deep and distant memory tells me something’s been done on tree valuations over here – must have a google to see if my memory serves me well!

    A number of our street trees have similar barriers around them at the moment – not for the same reason as yours, but the council are currently replacing the concrete around them with something a little bit more permeable – thank goodness!

    Thanks for your visit over at my place – I’ve been lurking here for a while because of my public planting interests 🙂

    I hope you don’t mind if I add the URL of this post to my Out on the Streets meme for this month?

  3. Gail Says:

    Good question. We had a very large tree struck by lightening and the insurance company. at that time, only valued the 100 + year old tree as worth $500! Not enough to have it removed.

    Trees in urban areas are to be treasured! Now I want to go downtown and check out the trees! I do wish that Nashville would protect its neighborhood trees from the company the electric company uses to clear the lines.


  4. Jen Says:

    Nice to see this happening. I guess they’d had trouble with construction crews taking them down? I’ll have to ask my dad who is a landscape broker in Florida about this. I know some of the taller palms cost like $5,000 to put in. But trees like this are irreplaceable.

  5. VP–Karen’s fighting the good fight in Seattle for those public planting spaces!

    Karen–do you suppose they’re going to leave those orange thingy’s up forever?

    As for the question, I value a tree for it’s shade on a hot and sunny day–no small thing in this part of the world.

  6. Catherine Says:

    I think it’s great that they are protecting them too. Around here (the suburbs of Seattle) they cut everything down when building new developments or chop the whole top of the tree off for power lines which just makes them look ugly and I’m sure damaged.
    I think those big trees are priceless too, it would be nice if they could put some sort of nice barrier around them though.

  7. MA Says:

    Certified arborists are hired to do valuations of trees. They have extensive backgrounds/education/knowledge/information to help them determine a tree’s worth. They are called in by insurance companies, power companies, homeowners (not often enough), highway departments and other municipalities to do appraisals.

    There are a couple of huge manuals used for this as well, but I can’t for the life of me remember the titles.

  8. Grace Says:

    Hi Karen~~ I think trees are like children…they’re priceless. Sentimental value is an intangible. A good arborist can assess a tree’s health (or lack thereof), taking into account a tree’s health benefits to humans and environmental contributions, its age and the price of a suitable replacement; report his findings to some mucky-muck sitting behind a big desk somewhere, accumulating tax-payer dollars who then tallies it up its worth and tapes it to a tree. (Sorry for my cynicism.) 🙂

    Albany is one of those designated “tree towns.” I’m not sure how it earned this but there are rules for removing trees within city limits. A permit is required. This is a good thing, although there is the argument that people should be able to do what they want with their property… and the debate continues.

    You asked about the 75 cent nursery. It’s called Fry Road Nursery. It’s a rather humble establishment run by a family that lives on the premises. 13 or so hoop houses for perusing and several outside areas. (Calling them “displays” would be a slight exaggeration.) Co-owner, Ann, although not a gardener, is a plant addict. I’m not sure how you can be one without the other but… They’re not sticklers about cleanliness, although they’ve made great strides this winter and things look a lot better. Plants are not very organized so it’s a hunting expedition which I personally enjoy. Not all plants are 75 cents. They range in price and size but are cheaper than the typical fancy-dancy nursery. (I love those too.) I think as long as a person knows beforehand what to expect, they’ll love it. Some people are too dirt-phobic to enjoy it. Oh, and there is a chicken farm about a half mile away and when the wind is right…it can be bad. But there are thousands of plants and I personally can put up with the all the idiosyncrasies for a wagon load of bargains. They’re not far off I-5, just outside of Albany. Their website has more info.

  9. Darla Says:

    I would hate it if we didn’t have all of the trees downtown!!

  10. Karen, what a wonderful post. I’ve been thinking about this so many times, latest this morning when a huge crane arrived and took off a beautiful, mature douglas fir in the neighborhood. All the birds and squirrels are still upset. I’m so tired of this trend of hugging trees down; all that is left is sun parched gardens and no character or sence of place. Trees really are priceless. In Britain, a mature oak is (or at least was when the economy was stronger…) valued ca £30 000 for insurance purposes, as they are totally impossible to replace. It is sad that everything has to have a monetary value, but if it would help in saving especially mature trees, it would be good to have a list of such “values” available…

  11. annetanne Says:

    When we were searching for a house to buy, almost 15 years ago now, we fell in love with the house were we are living now because of it’s trees. There were two + 100 years old beeches behind it, and a oak that is probably two centuries old.
    The house itself was almost ready for demolition (although we have carefully renovated it), so in fact what we paid, we paid for those trees. And we’re so happy we did!

    A Dutch blogger wrote once ‘Een boom is meer dan er staat‘, ‘A tree is so much more than what is standing there’…

  12. Georgia Says:

    When I worked as an urban forester, by dbh (diameter at breast height). As a student researching ecosystem services, by ecosystem services.

    As me, I agree with inadvertentfarmer, priceless (but I don’t like Norway maples that aggressively seed and shade out northeastern native woodland trees).

  13. P.S. The tree protection zone should cover the entire tree growing area not just the trunk of the tree.

    P.P.S. FYI: (urban forest management plan).

  14. B. J. Hogan Says:

    I am sending a link to this discussion WHAT IS A TREE WORTH to the director of Keep Mobile Beautiful here in Mobile AL. I think they would appreciate the example of action taken in another community. We have some rules/laws in place for our huge live oak trees, but sometimes you have to do more–like GET ATTENTION.

  15. JAT Says:

    This Washington legal standard of treble damages for killing someone else’s tree is not new, but as is pointed out – generally the tree’s “owner” is the developer himself, and it’s a lot cheaper to rip out the tree and have the landscaper put in a shrub when the project is finished.

    I suppose it’s a good thing that the City is finally trying to protect its trees, but I’m afraid i don’t see it as starry-eyed-ly as everyone else here.

    Mayor McCheese has prayed at the alter of condo developers for so long and now to make up for the defoliation of Seattle he’s putting the burden of replacing the trees on us rather than having enforced reasonable environmental protections during his first seven years.

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