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Oct 18,2006- The Now News

City looks at creating fund to pay for replacement trees

By Leneen Robb - Staff Reporter

If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody calculate the estimated net benefit it provided during its lifetime? Probably not, but if they did, the figure would be somewhere between $6 and $67 per year, according to a new report from the City of Coquitlam.

The draft city street tree management plan, written by Coquitlam's general manager of leisure and parks services, Edie Doepker, attempts to put a dollar amount to the benefits - including storm water retention, air pollution mitigation, energy savings and esthetic value - of the city's roughly 450,000 trees. The figure Doepker came up with is $11.4 million annually.

Mike Nihls, the city's manager of parks and open space services, said in an interview that the practice of assigning a dollar cost to trees is based on research started in the last five years or so. Researchers take into account such things as how much carbon dioxide trees take out of the air, subtract the cost of maintaining those trees, then arrive at a net benefit.

The city hired a firm last year, Nihls said, to do what is admittedly not an exact science - attach economic value to what are commonly viewed as the qualitative benefits of trees.

Doepker's report estimates that, based on a 40-year lifespan, total net lifetime benefits range from $240 for a small tree to $2,687 for a larger one.

Where there are benefits, there are usually costs, of course, and the city's report aims to pin down how much Coquitlam should spend to maintain its street trees.

Nihls said trees - which are now required as part of subdivision servicing - are relatively cheap to maintain when they're young, but cost more as they age, partly because pruning a larger tree takes more time.

The report, which has not yet been voted on by council, suggests that for each new tree planted, the city put aside $50 in an annual street tree maintenance fund.

Most of that amount - $30 - would go toward maintenance - while $15 would be put into a reserve fund to pay for the cost of planting replacement trees and $5 would be used to pay for indirect maintenance activities such as street sweeping and catch basin inspection.

Nihls said the city has about 3,000 street trees now - there are about 180,000 trees on city property - and that number could double in 15 years.

While developers will pay for the cost of planting new trees, the city is responsible for their maintenance.

Nihls expects crews to plant about 200 new trees each year, and says that if the $50-per-tree fee is approved, it will only cost the city about $10,000 annually.

"Staff have done a street tree management plan now to be proactive, to make sure that we're preparing," he said, "now that trees are required as part of subdivision servicing."

published on 10/18/2006

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