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Downtown Billings skyline

The downtown Billings skyline.

The 8,335 trees growing in Billings’ parks and along city streets would cost taxpayers more than $14 million to replace, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said recently.

Comprising what’s called the urban forest, those same trees provide residents more than $1 million in benefits, about $121 per tree. Those benefits include a 5 million gallon stormwater runoff reduction, the 567 tons of carbon dioxide the urban trees sequester, the $846,000 they add to local property values and the $108,000 or so their shade saves residents on their energy bills.

Those figures, as well as statistics from neighboring communities including Laurel, Red Lodge and Roundup, are found in “State of Community Trees in Montana,” a DNRC publication that analyzes data on tree species, size, age, location, condition and other factors in 61 Montana cities and towns.

The report comes as communities across the nation prepare to celebrate Arbor Day. Billings’ Arbor Day celebration is set for May 3.

Nearly 96 percent of the trees in Billings’ urban forest are in good condition, the report indicates. But about 23 percent are ash trees and are susceptible to the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect that devastates ash tree species. While not yet identified in Montana, the beetle has been spreading rapidly across the United States since its introduction.

About 16 percent of the city’s publicly-owned trees are Blue Spruce. Best forestry practice is that no single species represent more than 10 percent of the total tree population. The dominance of any single species can have what the report calls “detrimental consequences” in the event of storms, climate change, drought, disease, pests or any other stressors “that can severely affect an urban forest and the flow of benefits and costs over time.”

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Laurel’s parks and streetscapes are home to 3,361 trees with a replacement value of $4.7 million. About 29 percent are in good condition. More than two-thirds of those trees are ash trees.

Red Lodge’s community forest is made up of 2,205 trees with a $2.8 million replacement value. The most popular species are poplar (about 20 percent), blue spruce (about 16 percent) and European mountain ash (about 11 percent).

Roundup's community forest has 1,548 trees, which would cost $2.8 million to replace. At more than 70 percent of the total, green ash trees “are extremely over-represented,” the report states.

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.