US Plants 1 Billion Trees as Climate Change Destroys Forests
The Biden administration has recently announced that the federal government will plant more than one billion trees across millions of acres of burned and dead woodlands in the U.S. West, as officials struggle to combat the growing impact of wildfires, insects, and other manifestations of climate change on the nation's forests.
In recent years, destructive fires that burn at temperatures too high for forests to recover naturally have overtaken the government's ability to plant new trees. According to officials, this has generated a backlog of 4.1 million acres (1.7 million hectares) that require replanting.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has stated that nursery production of tree seedlings must be quadrupled to clear the backlog and meet future demands.
It comes after Congress enacted bipartisan legislation last year instructing the Forest Service to plant 1.2 billion trees over the next decade and after President Joe Biden directed the agency in April to make the nation's forests more resilient as the planet warms.
A substantial portion of the administration's broader programme to combat climate change has stagnated in Congress, where Democrats have a razor-thin majority.
This has necessitated a piecemeal approach with modest measures like Monday's announcement, while the administration analyses whether to declare a climate emergency, which may pave the way for more aggressive executive branch moves.
To eliminate the backlog of depleted forest acreage, the Forest Service expects to increase the amount of land replanted annually from approximately 60,000 acres (24,000 hectares) to approximately 400,000 acres (162,000 hectares) during the next couple of years, according to authorities.
According to David Lytle, the agency's director of forest management, the majority of the work will take place in western states, where wildfires now occur year-round and where the need is the greatest.
This year, blazes have already scorched 5.6 million acres in the United States, putting 2022 on track to match or surpass the record-setting 2015 fire season, which scorched 10.1 million acres (4.1 million hectares).
Many blocks of wood regrow spontaneously after fires, but if the blazes are extremely powerful, they can leave behind decades-long barren landscapes before the trees return.
“Our forests, rural communities, agriculture, and economy are connected across a shared landscape and their existence is at stake,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement announcing the reforestation plan. “Only through bold, climate-smart actions ... can we ensure their future.”
This year, the Forest Service will spend more than $100 million on replanting. According to agency officials, spending is likely to rise by as much as $260 million annually in the coming years as a result of the comprehensive federal infrastructure package passed last year.
Some proponents of the timber sector criticised last year's reforestation law as insufficient to reduce the severity of the wildfire situation. They want more aggressive logging to thin stands that have become overgrown from years of suppressing fires.
To prevent replanted areas from becoming similarly overgrown, practices are changing so reforested stands are less dense with trees and therefore less fire-prone, said Joe Fargione, science director for North America at the Nature Conservancy.
Fargione stated that there are still obstacles to the Forest Service's objective, such as finding enough seeds and employees to plant them.
Drought and insects, which can be exacerbated by climate change, will kill many seedlings before they reach maturity.
“You’ve got to be smart about where you plant,” Fargione said. “There are some places where the climate has already changed enough that it makes the probability of successfully reestablishing trees pretty low.”
Fargione stated that living trees are a primary "sink" for carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere and causes climate change. Therefore, it is essential to replace those who pass away to prevent climate change from worsening.
In 1980, Congress established a reforestation trust whose yearly financing, derived from levies on forestry goods, had previously been set at $30 million.
According to officials, it was sufficient when the greatest demand for replanting stemmed from logging but became inadequate as the incidence of major, high-intensity fires rose.
Insects, diseases, and timber harvests also contribute to the quantity of area requiring replanting, although fires account for the vast majority. Over 5 million acres have been badly burned in the past five years alone.