Environmental and Nature's Benefits of Trees street trees

Environmental Benefits

One of the most important benefits that trees provide is cleaner, cooler air and water. Trees trap lung-damaging dust, ash, pollen and smoke from the air. In respect to air pollution reduction, trees provide shade which reduces temperatures helps keep pollutants already in the air from becoming even more volatile. Research demonstrates that urban heat islands change weather patterns, altering the amount and duration of local and downwind rainfall patterns. Urban trees lessen the impact of the urban heat island effect and reduce changes in weather patterns. Most importantly, trees produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. Studies show one acre of trees produces enough oxygen for 18 people every day.

Trees also act as natural water filters and help significantly slow the movement of stormwater, which lowers total runoff volume, soil erosion and flooding. From an economic viewpoint, communities that utilize this important function of trees and canopy cover may spend less money developing additional stormwater management infrastructure.

Infiltration rates for forested areas are 10-15 times greater than for equivalent areas of turf and grass. During a heavy rain, a healthy forest can absorb as much as 20,000 gallons of water in an hour. Many municipalities are now charging businesses and homeowners a stormwater utility fee based on the amount of impervious surface at their location.

Environmental Fast Facts
  • According to American Forests, the forests in Atlanta remove about 19 million pounds of air pollutants each year, worth about $47 million a year.
  • To meet state sewer standards, the City of Atlanta is spending $240 million to counter effects associated with the loss of tree canopy.
  • In Atlanta, the storm water retention capacity of the urban forest is worth about $2.36 billion, or about $85.9 million a year.
  • Trees absorb and store an annual average of 13 pounds of carbon each year. Community trees across the United States store 6.5 million tons of carbon per year, resulting in a savings of $22 billion in control costs.
  • Many residents use trees as one type of landscape tool for visual screening and noise reduction around their homes. Various types of trees can be planted at differing heights, distances and densities to mask noise and visual pollution that interferes with our quality of life.
  • Trees make communities livable for people and soften the outline of masonry, metal and glass.
  • Trees provide wildlife habitat, which includes food, water, shelter and places to raise young for birds and other animals.
  • Trees can be planted on roadsides and throughout transportation systems and trails to make walking safer and more pedestrian friendly.
  • Streets with little or no shade need to be repaved twice as often as those with tree cover.

Nature's Benefits

Forest ecosystems are important providers of services that benefit people and are profitable.

Nature's benefits are considered free to the public. To quantify their economic value the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources studied the indirect use and non-use value (not direct use value) of Georgia's forests. Considering climate regulation, water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat services (non-game), pollination services, soil stabilization/erosion control services, aesthetic, cultural, and similar services, the study found the estimated ecosystem service value of Georgia's private forests totaled $37,683,720,529. The average value per acre is $264 - $13,442 depending on characteristics.

Timber value, forest products and recreational use were not considered in this study.

The study also showed the economic impact of the forest industry in Georgia is approximately $27 billion/year, and the economic impact of outdoor recreation in Georgia is approximately $2 billion/year.

Read the final 2011 report - Quantifying the value of non-timber ecosystem services from Georgia's private forests.