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UM students calculate benefits of trees on campus
University of Montana

UM students calculate benefits of trees on campus


For the next week, trees across the University of Montana campus will be wearing price tags showing off the value they provide to the school.

Josh Smith, a recent UM graduate and employee of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said the project was organized by students from UM’s College of Forestry and Conservation.

To come up with the valuations for each of the trees, Smith and students with the school’s branch of Society of American Foresters used a piece of computer software called i-Tree Design, which allowed them to use satellite maps to mark the size of the trees and where they were in relation to nearby buildings. Smith said the software then uses about 60,000 different calculations to determine the overall economic benefit that tree provides over the course of a 50-year period.

“Usually the money comes in the form of energy conservation. For example, trees slow down wind, which takes energy away from buildings in the form of heat as it moves past windows,” he said.

In all, the students marked 28 different trees around campus with the neon green tags that show their economic benefit to the school. Those trees alone totaled more than $200,000 in value over a 50-year period.

An American linden next to the Oval on campus was on the lower end of economic benefit of the trees tagged at $1,652, Smith said. A nearby ponderosa pine up against the side of the Payne Family Native American Center was valued as providing $16,889.

“Over the course of 50 years, it all adds up,” Smith said. “A well-placed tree can provide a lot of benefits, and it’s a way to advocate for tree planting.”

Although it was not a part of the economic benefit valuation, the tags also include additional information about the trees, such as the wood products often made from them or historical or cultural relevancy they had among Native American tribes.

Across the entire campus, Smith said UM has around 2,100 trees. On top of the long-term economic benefits they provide, he said they add an estimated $2 million of total property value to the school.

Since graduating from UM’s forestry program in the spring, Smith has been working with the DNRC as an urban forestry technician, helping with a survey of trees on public property in cities and towns across the state. Part of his work has involved providing reports to individual communities on places where trees, because of age and other factors, pose a potential safety hazard to the public.

Julie Kies, program manager for forest products and biomass with the DNRC, said the tree-tagging is one of the ways the College of Forestry and Conservation at UM is celebrating Montana Forest Products Week, which takes place Oct. 18-24. The themed week is meant to showcase the role of the forest industry and its role in the Montana economy.

“Showing off urban trees brings it home for people. It’s easier to understand the effect they have,” she said.

On Tuesday, as part of Montana Forest Products Week, Gov. Steve Bullock will present Willis Enterprises, which operates a pulp log-chipping facility at the former Stimson mill in Bonner, with the first Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Utilization and Promotion of Montana Wood.

The Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce will hold a “timber tour” of the Willis Enterprises’ operation and UM’s Lubrecht Experimental Forest from 12:30 until 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23. The tour requires participants to pre-register by calling the chamber at (406) 542-6623.

Elementary school districts across the state also have planned visits and tours of lumber mill sites and other forest products businesses over the course of the week.

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