Reforestation, whether by planning for natural regeneration or tree planting, allows for the accelerated development of forested ecosystems following natural disturbance events such as wildfire, wind events, and insect and disease infestations, or planned timber harvest. This silvicultural treatment helps to develop forest structure and species composition to provide for wildlife habitat, clean and abundant water, forest wood products, recreation opportunities, soil stabilization, and so much more. Reforestation presents unique opportunities to address emerging issues associated with climate change by conserving and managing tree genetic diversity and sequestering carbon to counter greenhouse gas emissions.
In some situations, relying on natural regeneration from existing tree seed and genetic sources may best meet management objectives. While on other sites where the seed source has been lost due to a natural disturbance, such as a stand-replacing wildfire or insects or diseases, tree planting may be needed to restore trees to the site. Forest Service nurseries and seed extractories are a critical component of the reforestation program, collecting seed ahead of reforestation needs, and assuring that healthy seedlings are available for restoring native ecosystems.
National Reforestation Strategy
“Growing and Nurturing Resilient Forests: A Reforestation Strategy for the National Forest System” is a focused effort to address current and future forest needs. Reforesting in the right place, at the right time, with the right species, and at appropriate scales can change the current trajectory.
To be successful, the agency must make complex land management decisions that include the best available science and collaborations with a wide variety of partners, including nongovernmental organizations and other government agencies. The Reforestation Strategy provides the framework for fully addressing current and future reforestation needs. The Forest Service will develop national and regional 10-year implementation plans that will include the finer scale steps the agency will take to successfully increase the pace and scale of reforestation, address existing needs, and anticipate future events.
The work also will help the agency meet provisions of the Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees Act, also called the REPLANT Act, which provided the agency with additional funding to address the backlog of needed reforestation and a mandate to address post-disturbance needs.
Reforestation is the growing and nurturing of trees to help maintain healthy, resilient forests capable of delivering values, known as nature’s benefits. These values are the things that people see, feel, hear and rely on in their daily lives, including clean air and water, carbon sequestration, and shade.
Healthy forested ecosystems also provide habitat for native fish and wildlife. These same healthy forests can provide products such as timber for building homes, decks, and other wood products. Forests offer medicinal and decorative plants and are sources of nutritious foods, such as mushrooms, berries and, of course, fish and wildlife.
Healthy forests are the embodiment of life. The healthier forests are, the healthier we are.
Numerous, severe threats to forested landscapes continue to escalate in size, frequency, and intensity. Uncharacteristic wildfire, insect infestations, diseases, drought, flooding, invasive species, and climate change endanger forests and create a need for restoration.
Wildfire alone causes approximately 80 percent of reforestation needs on National Forest System lands. Severely burned areas are vulnerable to invasive species, which, along with climate change, increases the risk of losing our future forests. These threats have been increasing. More than half of the 4 million acres of potential reforestation needs on National Forest System lands stems from wildfires over the last two years. In 2020 and 2021, more than 2.5 million acres burned with high severity, compounding the 1.5 million acres of previously identified and verified reforestation needs.
In addition to wildfire, 2019 monitoring efforts revealed more than 7 million acres with dead trees and an additional 5.4 million acres of trees damaged by insects and disease. The 2020 hurricane season saw a record-breaking 30 named storms with 12 hitting the U.S. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and other wind events can significantly affect forest structure. Climate change increases temperatures and the volatility of precipitation, which compound other stressors.
Initial analysis by the Forest Service has identified more than 4 million acres of forestlands in potential need of reforestation largely caused by wildfire (2021 Rapid Assessment of Vegetation Condition after Wildfire (RAVG). However, in the past, the agency could only address 6% of identified wildfire-caused reforestation needs due to a cap in our primary source of funding, the Reforestation Trust Fund, which is the primary source of funding for post-disturbance reforestation activities. The REPLANT Act became law on November 15, 2021 as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and eliminates the funding cap, giving the Forest Service the opportunity to address reforestation needs into the future.
The Forest Service Nursery System of six nurseries and two seed extractories supports the agency’s mission to restore and retain ecosystem health and to ensure future biological diversity on federal lands. Forest Service nurseries are an agency-wide asset integral to address reforestation needs and support additional work on the ground.
The agency collects seeds in advance of fires or other disturbances that might severely affect local seed sources. The Agency has also established seed orchards with seed collected from specific species and areas. Seed orchards function as living seed caches. This ensures the agency has the right kinds of seeds from the right species and geographic areas to grow seedlings to respond to these wildfires. Collecting these seeds and safeguarding them is a necessary first step to ensure the agency can carry out post-wildfire reforestation work.
Each year the Forest Service publishes Reforestation and Stand Improvement information.
Since 1983 the Forest Service Plant-A-Tree program has allowed for individual donations to be used for reforestation projects across the National Forest System. Your gift of trees helps to reforest public lands that will be enjoyed by generations to come.
In recognition of your donation to Plant-A-Tree, an optional customizable Plant-A-Tree certificate can be sent to you or another person named by you. You can choose from three styles of certificates and select to have the certificate honor, Memorialize, or celebrate a loved one. Visit Plant-A-Tree.