Kansas Forestry Service, USDA study finds the value of Douglas County trees

Douglas Country trees are estimated to be worth $26.9 million.

That’s what a study, conducted by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Office in conjunction with the Kansas Forestry Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forestry Service, found.

David Nowak, a USDA Forestry Service agent out of Syracuse, N.Y., and Kim Bomberger, Community District Forester for the Kansas Forestry Service presented the findings of the study to a small crowd at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Thursday night. Nowak said the study, conducted last summer on 190 randomly selected plots of land, found an estimated 14.2 million trees in Douglas County. Those trees were given a monetary value based on how much trees save in energy costs, pollutant removal and carbon removal based on studies done by the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA. For instance, trees in the county remove more than 3,000 tons of pollutants a year, which amounts to a savings of $17.7 million in pollutant-related costs.

Nowak said that while the monetary value of trees is great, there are other ways trees benefit the county.

“There’s a bunch of values we can’t put dollar (amounts) on,” he said.

These values include providing wildlife habitat, creating noise barriers and providing shade. One potential benefit that Nowak said could be explored is how fallen trees can be harvested for products other than mulch. He said wood could be used to make ethanol, biodegradable plastics and even bulletproof vests.

“In this county and all over the U.S. there’s a lot of wood that’s going to waste,” he said.

Nowak said the reverse side of trees pulling carbon from the atmosphere is that once the tree dies the carbon is released.

Bomberger, who has conducted similar studies in the Kansas City metro area, said Douglas County was selected for this study because of continued development expected to follow Interstate 70 west to Topeka. She said the conservation and environmental planning practices that Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Office already uses made Douglas County a perfect fit for the study.

Mary Miller with the Lawrence-Douglas County Office said now that the study is complete, the next step is to find out how the community wants to handle the forest resources in the county.

A full report on the finds should be published by the end of the year.