“You’ve got to be smart about where you plant,” an expert said.
Trees have burned down on millions of acres of woodland across the United States in recent years, but many affected forests are about to be replanted.
This year alone millions of acres of woods have already been burned to some extent in the U.S. Although many forests can regenerate naturally, raging fires can leave behind barren landscapes that remain treeless for decades. In the past five years, more than 5 million acres were severely burned.
“Destructive fires in recent years that burned too hot for forests to quickly regrow have far outpaced the government’s capacity to replant trees. That’s created a backlog of 4.1 million acres (1.7 million hectares) in need of replanting,” government officials reportedly said.
The task of planting some 1.2 billion trees within a decade wil be challenging, however, and the U.S.’s Deparment of Agriculture will have to quadruple the number of tree seedlings produced by nurseries. Its Forest Service is seeking to boost the area of replanted forest from 60,000 acres (24,000 hectares) last year to about 400,000 acres (162,000 hectares) each year at an annual cost of up to $260 million.
Especial focus will be on western states where wildfires now occur all year round. To prevent replanted woodlands from becoming overgrown firetraps again, they will need to be replanted so as to be less dense with trees, said Joe Fargione, science director for North America at the Nature Conservancy.
“You’ve got to be smart about where you plant,” Fargione said. “There are some places that the climate has already changed enough that it makes the probability of successfully reestablishing trees pretty low.”
Seedlings in replanted woods will also need to be hardy enough to reach full maturity in order for these new forests to thrive.
As the climate is changing, the time is pressing if the country is to ensure it continues to be home to plenty of forests that can support biodiversity and act as carbon sinks.
“Our forests, rural communities, agriculture and economy are connected across a shared landscape and their existence is at stake,” said Tom Vilsack, the country’s agriculture secretary. “Only through bold, climate-smart actions … can we ensure their future.”