Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees, For Now

Portland Tree Asset Management reportA new CNT study shows that Portland is well-positioned to pilot a tree asset management program that would lay the groundwork for turning its tree canopy into a bondable asset, similar to bridges and roads. The study identified six steps through which Portland—and other cities—can create an effective tree asset management program. The study also provides several case studies of other cities that are attempting to turn their trees into assets.

Tree Asset Management in Portland, Oregon is available here.

Why Tree Asset Management
The urban tree canopy has gained broad recognition in recent decades for its contributions to municipalities’ ecological and social well-being. It manages regional stormwater, reduces the urban heat island effect, improves air quality, increases property value, and enhances community livability. However, securing investment dollars to sustain the long-term infrastructure value of urban trees has proved challenging.

To determine the value of trees as infrastructure, cities need to quantify the various services that trees deliver and relate their performance to that of adjacent conventional infrastructure. Cities can translate that performance into long-term asset valuation in order to harness funding that supports and expands the infrastructure service of a tree canopy.

Portland Has Key Elements of Tree Asset Management in Place
Portland already recognizes and measures many of the benefits their trees provide, particularly relating to stormwater, energy, and livability values. But the tree canopy’s difference from conventional infrastructure has so far precluded the classification of trees as capital assets and their eligibility for capital funds, which are the bread and butter of utility investment.

A tree asset management program could fix that. Portland has several key elements in place. It has conducted research that would create the baseline of a tree asset management pilot program, such as tracking tree planting and condition. The city has developed urban forest canopy goals and an action plan that fosters interagency participation. Portland has quantified costs and benefits of the urban canopy, showing that the city enjoys a $3.80 return on every $1 invested. Portland has also already launched a variety of projects and initiatives that could support tree asset management implementation.

Six Steps to Tree Asset Management
Portland is well-positioned to institute a tree asset management program, but any city could institute one. CNT has identified the following six steps a city should take before instituting its own program:

  1. Select a handful of sample neighborhoods as pilot areas.
  2. Conduct a baseline tree census for those areas.
  3. Assuming a 20- or 30-year potential investment life, project the life-cycle asset value of the utility services delivered by trees,  particularly their influence on stormwater management, energy use, and property value.
  4. Construct a web-based tool that con­nects inventory data, maintenance, and performance value projections for asset accounting and reporting. An integrated tree asset management tool would serve as an administrative tool for both management and accounting, and would help to encourage public in­volvement and support for tree-based infrastructure services.
  5. Report annually on incremental performance and asset value.
  6. Evaluate pilot results and tools to determine citywide expansion.