by Steve Turner
Trees provide us so many benefits it would be hard to place a true dollar value on their worth. They provide shade, beauty and clean the air we breathe. Essentially as a group they help support life on earth. But how much is one tree worth and how do you figure it out? A tree’s monetary value in a landscape is measured by the cost of replacement, unlike a tree in a forest that is measured by its timber value.
Many factors go into appraising a landscape tree, including size, age, location, health, structure, and species. Each category is judged by its level of importance and a score is given in each. A formula is used to then determine a cash value of the tree’s replacement.
Obviously size and age are going to be very important factors because we use the cost of the largest tree we can plant and then start multiplying it until we get to the size of your tree. So take a tree that has a circumference of 100 inches, and the largest replacement tree is only 10 inches and costs a thousand dollars. If all the other factors are good, the value could be up to $10,000 for replacement. Slow-growing trees are going to be worth more than fast-growing trees of similar size in the same situation.
Just the mere location of a tree can affect its value. For example, if you have a huge elm in the center of your front yard as the centerpiece of your landscape, it is going to be valued much more than the same tree growing in the corner of a parking lot. Just like the value of a home, when it comes to trees an important asset is location, location, location.
The health of a tree is probably the most important factor. Obviously a dead tree has little value in a landscape, so trees that are stressed or dying are going to be of less value than strong, healthy ones. One factor to consider when determining the degree of a tree problem is judging whether or not it is a temporary or a permanent situation. Does it have an insect feeding on its leaves this year or is it infested with borers that will surely kill it? A short-term problem will have a minimal effect on the value of a tree, while more severe problems will decrease the value.
Tree structure is another important factor. A solid tree with good branching is going to be worth more than a tree that has hollows and poor branching, or one that has never been pruned to eliminate or reduce structural deficiencies. Keeping a tree properly maintained can add value and no maintenance or improper pruning such as topping a tree can significantly reduce its value. In fact, topped trees hold little value because the structural integrity of the tree was lost – over time the tree will likely fall apart.
The species of tree will be a major factor in determining worth. A large oak will be worth much more than a Chinese elm of the same size. Species with known problems such as weak structure or disease susceptibility will have a lesser value than those that do not. Volunteer trees such as mulberry, box elder, and tree of heaven are not as valuable as planned specimen trees like beech or Japanese maple.
Yet another factor is availability. If a tree is rare or in high demand it will be harder to find a comparable replacement to help determine its value. I know of a company that had to go to New York to find a suitable replacement for a damaged tree and the cost was well over $20,000 to purchase and move the tree back to Michigan.
So why is it important to put a price tag on trees? It is difficult to sell a large tree and move it, and the demand for this is minimal, so why the fuss for an appraisal? A few reasons come to mind, such as insurance, taxes, vandalism or neglect. If you have many large, mature trees that increase your property value and would be virtually irreplaceable, you can ask your insurance company about possible riders to your homeowners policy that would cover the removal and clean up of a tree if necessary.
With unpredictable storms and the presence of the emerald ash borer, which is killing our ash trees, many of us will be faced with the unplanned loss of a tree. Check with your accountant about IRS casualty loss provisions and find out if you are eligible for any tax deductions as a result.
Then there is the subject of neglectful damage or vandalism to trees. Let’s say a situation gets to the point where a settlement needs to be worked out. If the damaged tree is appraised, the tree’s owner can argue for the real value of the tree instead of settling for some small replacement. Appraisals can be done from old pictures or even stumps, which can tell a lot about the tree’s health and can aid in determining their worth.
Although most of us appreciate the beauty that trees provide us, fewer know the monetary value associated with their trees, and they would be surprised to find out they are so valuable. Maybe this increased awareness can save a few trees from removal and increase the level of care they receive. But to those who hold a sentimental attachment to a favorite tree, the dollar amount placed on it could never replace its loss.
Steve Turner is a Certified Arborist from Arboricultural Services in Oakland County, Michigan.