Trees in residential areas, schoolyards, parks, and along downtown streets provide valuable services to communities — they increase property values, cool buildings, take in carbon dioxide, and mitigate air pollution. To determine a value for the services that urban trees provide, Associate Professor Eric Wiseman used a software tool called i-Tree Eco in a survey of five Virginia communities.

Wiseman and his team used the analysis software, developed by the U.S. Forest Service, to conduct a detailed study assigning value to urban trees, the first such study in the state. “As Virginia becomes increasingly urbanized, managing the state’s urban forests will be increasingly important for conserving natural resources and sustaining communities,” he explained.

Wiseman’s crew of students, assisted at times by volunteers, spent the summers of 2010 and 2011 collecting field data on trees and vegetation on plots in Abingdon, Charlottesville, Falls Church, Roanoke, and Winchester. The data analyses in i-Tree Eco, which estimate the forest’s functional benefits and economic value, showed that there are more than 3.4 million trees in these five communities alone and that these urban forests provide nearly $7 million in annual benefits. The survey also revealed information on tree species diversity in each municipality’s urban forest and the potential impacts of invasive pests.

The results of the study will help municipal officials better manage their community’s trees and forests. “Before the survey, we could only guess at such things, but now we have specific numbers and a reliable data collection method to support the numbers,” said Kevin Sigmon, Abingdon town arborist.