New software puts forest ecology in public hands

The U.S. Forest Service and its partners released this morning the newest version of their free i-Tree software suite, designed to quantify the benefits of trees and assist communities in gaining support and funding for the trees in their parks, schoolyards and neighborhoods.

i-Tree v.4, made possible by a public-private partnership, provides urban planners, forest managers, environmental advocates and students is a free tool to measure the ecological and economic value of the trees in their neighborhoods and cities.  The Forest Service and its partners will offer free and easily accessible technical support for the i-Tree suite.

“Urban trees are the hardest working trees in America,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Urban trees’ roots are paved over, and they are assaulted by pollution and exhaust, but they keep working for us.”

The i-Tree suite of tools has helped communities gain funding for urban forest management and programs by quantifying the value of their trees and the environmental services trees provide.

One recent i-Tree study found that street trees in Minneapolis provided $25 million in benefits ranging from energy savings to increased property values. Urban planners in Chattanooga, Tenn., were able to show that for every dollar invested in their urban forests, the city received $12.18 in benefits. New York City used i-Tree to justify $220 million for planting trees during the next decade.

“Forest Service research and models on the benefits of urban trees are now in the hands of people who can make a difference in our communities,” said Paul Ries, director of Cooperative Forestry for the Forest Service. “The work of Forest Service researchers, the best in the world, is not just sitting on a shelf, but is now being widely applied in communities of all sizes, around the world, to help people understand and leverage the benefits of trees in their communities.”

Since the initial release of the i-Tree tools in August 2006, more than 100 communities, non-profit organizations, consultants and schools have used i-Tree to report on individual trees, parcels, neighborhoods, cities, and even entire states.

“I am proud to be part of a project that is doing so much good for our communities,” said Dave Nowak, lead i-Tree researcher for the Forest Service Northern Research Station. ” i-Tree will foster a better understanding of the importance of green space in our cities and neighborhoods, which is so important in a world where development and environmental change are stark realities.”
The most important improvements in i-Tree v.4:

  • i-Tree will reach a broader audience in educating people on the value of trees. i-Tree Design is designed to be easily used by homeowners, garden centers, and in school classrooms. People can use i-Tree Design and its link to Google maps to see the impact of the trees in their yard, neighborhood and classrooms, and what benefits they can see by adding new trees. i-Tree Canopy and VUE with their links to Google maps now also make it much easier and less expensive for communities and managers to analyze the extent and values of their tree canopy, analyses that up to this point have been prohibitively expensive for many communities.
  • i-Tree will also expand its audience to other resource management professionals. i-Tree Hydro provides a more sophisticated tool for professionals involved in stormwater and water quality and quantity management. Hydro is a tool that can be applied immediately to help communities evaluate and address the impacts of their urban forests on stream flow and water quality that could be helpful in meeting state and national (EPA) clean water and stormwater regulations and standards.
  • With each new release of i-Tree, the tools become easier to use and more relevant to the users. i-Tree developers are continually addressing feedback from users and adjusting and improving the tools so that they are easier to use by a much broader audience. This will only help to increase its use and impact not only in the United States but around the world.