Integrating ecosystem services analysis into scenario planning practice: Accounting for street tree benefits with i-Tree valuation in Central Texas

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Journal of Environmental Management


Scenario planning continues to gain momentum in the United States as an effective process for building consensus on long-range community plans and creating regional visions for the future. However, efforts to integrate more sophisticated information into the analytical framework to help identify important ecosystem services have lagged in practice. This is problematic because understanding the tradeoffs of land consumption patterns on ecological integrity is central to mitigating the environmental degradation caused by land use change and new development. In this paper we describe how an ecosystem services valuation model, i-Tree, was integrated into a mainstream scenario planning software tool, Envision Tomorrow, to assess the benefits of public street trees for alternative future development scenarios. The tool is then applied to development scenarios from the City of Hutto, TX, a Central Texas Sustainable Places Project demonstration community. The integrated tool represents a methodological improvement for scenario planning practice, offers a way to incorporate ecosystem services analysis into mainstream planning processes, and serves as an example of how open source software tools can expand the range of issues available for community and regional planning consideration, even in cases where community resources are limited. The tool also offers room for future improvements; feasible options include canopy analysis of various future land use typologies, as well as a generalized street tree model for broader U.S. application.