Center for Urban Forest Research

United States
Department of
Pacific Southwest
Research Station
Center for Urban Forest Research
One Shields Ave. 1103, UC Davis
(5Davis, California 95616
Phone (530) 752-7636
USDA Forest Service
Contact: Jim Geiger, 530-752-6834
Desert Southwest Trees Vastly Improve Quality of Life
Davis, CA, October 22, 2004 – The quality of life in the southwest desert is
substantially better because of the efforts desert communities are making to plant and
maintain a variety of trees, according to a new study by the US Forest Service’s Center
for Urban Forest Research, a Pacific Southwest Research Station. The findings are
published in the “Desert Southwest Community Tree Guide: Benefits, Costs, and
Strategic Planting.”
Center Director, Dr. Greg McPherson stated “As many desert southwest
communities continue to grow during the next decade, sustaining healthy community
forests is critical to the quality of life residents expect. The role of community trees is to
improve human health, conserve energy, increase community attractiveness and
livability, and foster civic pride. As communities strive to balance economic growth with
environmental quality and social well-being, trees take on a significant role.”
The Guide will help communities promote energy efficiency through tree planting
and stewardship programs that strategically locate trees around homes and businesses.
These same trees, along with other trees planted in backyards, along streets, and in
Caring for the Land and Serving People
parks, will provide additional benefits such as improved air quality, storm water
reduction, increased property values, reduced stress, and economic growth.
The report quantifies benefits and costs for typical large-, medium -, small-stature,
deciduous trees (Evergreen ash, Mesquite, and Sweet acacia), as well as a conifer
(Aleppo pine). The analysis assumed that trees were planted in a residential yard site or
a public (street/park) site, a 40-year time frame, and a 60% survival rate. Tree care
costs were based on findings from a survey of municipal and commercial arborists.
Benefits were calculated using tree growth curves and numerical models that consider
regional climate, b uilding characteristics, air pollutant concentrations, and prices.
Benefits such as energy savings, stormwater runoff reduction, and air pollutant uptake,
were three to five times greater than tree care costs for medium and large trees.
Average annual benefits increased with mature tree size, $14 to $18 for a small
tree, $25 to $30 for a conifer and medium shade tree, and $37 to $43 for a large tree.
Benefits associated with property value increase and air conditioning savings accounted
for the largest proportion of total benefits. Rainfall interception, which reduces
stormwater runoff, and improved air quality were the next most important benefits,
followed by atmospheric carbon dioxide reduction.
Energy conservation benefits varied with tree location as well as size. Trees
located to shade south-facing walls increased winter heating costs, while trees located
opposite west-facing walls provided the greatest net heating and cooling energy
savings. The amount of rainfall trees intercept is approximately one-half the amount
they consume through irrigation. Because the price of irrigation water is considerably
less than the cost of treating stormwater per gallon, water quality benefits associated
with rainfall interception were 3-5 times greater than irrigation costs.
The guide covers regions located in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. The Desert
Southwest Region extends south to Mexico bordering western Arizona and eastern
California. It extends from Tucson and Safford, Arizona on the east and Southern
California cities of Palm Springs, Lancaster, and Bishop on the west. In the north it is
bounded by Las Vegas and Boulder City, Nevada.
Study partners include the Arizona Community Tree Council, Inc., Arizona State
Land Department, USDA Forest Service Southwestern Region, and the USDA Forest
Service Pacific Southwest Region.