New open-source software is helping cities better understand the benefits trees provide by calculating the value of the trees’ ecosystem services, such as air quality improvements and CO2 storage. More than a dozen cities have undertaken tree inventory initiatives, thanks to the OpenTreeMap software, and residents have helped map more than 1.1 million trees worldwide.
In addition to plotting a tree’s location, users record its size, species, and other parameters that allow the software to calculate the tree’s ecological value in terms of dollars saved through such benefits as cleaner air. San Diego’s more than 340,000 mapped trees, for example, are estimated to provide the city more than $7 million in benefits each year, including $4 million in air quality benefits and $2 million in reduced energy costs. In the coming months, additional software will allow city managers to decide where to plant trees for maximum environmental benefit.