Toronto trees are worth an estimated $7 Billion, or about
$700 per tree, according to a June 9, 2014, report from TD Economics. Toronto trees provide
residents with over $80 million, or about $8 per tree, of
environmental benefits and savings a year, as they are a critical
factor in environmental conditions, human health and the overall
quality of urban health. But is it a good idea to put a price on
Meanwhile, circulating on Facebook is this statement:
"Of concern to all! A tree is worth $193,250 according to
Professor T.M. Das of the University of Calcutta. A tree living for
50 years will generate $31,250 worth of air pollution control,
control soil erosion and increase soil fertility to the tune of
$31,250, recycle $37,500 worth of water and provide a home for
animals worth $31,250. This figure does not include the value of
fruits, lumber or beauty derived from trees. Just another sensible
reason to take care of our forests".
A more in depth look at Prof. Das's work can be found
in a 1991 article by Nancy Beckham, for Australian
Not everyone is "in love" with the idea of putting a
price on the environmental services of nature, whether
Toronto trees or any other environmental feature. In his article
"What's Wrong with Putting a Price on
Nature", Richard Conniff notes that George Monbiot, in his
article "The Great Impostors", has denounced
"payment for ecosystem services", or the costing and sale
of nature, as "another transfer of power to corporations and
the very rich." Conniff also notes that indeed, the
current approach to conservation has not been a total or abject
failure: even without pricing, "old-style" conservation
methods have resulted in state-sponsored protection areas,
including up to 50% in Belize.
From an environmental law point of view, trees can be and are
valued when they are damaged, though as we have
reported before, it is not much and the protection
afforded through tree by-laws is uneven at best. There was a
glimmer of hope more recently, however, regarding the protection of
trees, when the Superior Court of Justice
ruled that tree trunks growing across private property
lines are the common property of those owners: neither owner can
injure or destroy a shared tree in Ontario without the consent of
In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada was asked to grapple with
the valuation of trees in British Columbia v. Canadian Forest Products
Ltd. Canfor negligently caused a fire, and the province
sued to recover its damages for the harvestable and non-harvestable
trees in environmentally sensitive areas.
The majority of the court concluded in the Canfor decision that
the facts and way the case had been argued were not
appropriate to allow the court to properly
value non-harvestable trees in environmentally sensitive
areas. While making that finding, the court did not close the
door to the idea that the province could be entitled to the
commercial value of non-harvestable trees with the right
The minority of the court, while agreeing with the majority that
no environmental premium could be awarded, was of the view that the
province should be able to recover damages for the non-harvestable
trees in the environmentally sensitive areas: the trees had
intrinsic value at least equivalent to their commercial value, and
in the absence of better evidence, the value of nearby harvestable
trees could serve as a yardstick to measure these trees.
Ultimately, pricing our urban forest, or any forest, or any
environmental feature, including important wetlands, does raise
some important ethical questions. But it certainly seems here to
stay that economic benchmarks will become more and more the norm as
we try to manage our environmental features in responsible
ways, even if, as Mr. Monbiot feels, "it diminishes us, [and]
it diminishes nature."
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