Reforestation Efforts Aren’t Keeping Up With US Wildfires

The United States has been suffering from extreme weather conditions, including blazing wildfires. In the past two years alone, California has been plagued by the largest complex fire in state history and the largest singular fire in state history. That doesn’t even account for the fires burning through Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Idaho, and other areas in the United States.

In addition to wildfires, the US Southwest is also experiencing extreme drought – the worst drought in 500 years, according to National Geographic.

In all of the areas devastated by wildfires, the earth is left burnt, bare, and dry. Sometimes it can be left alone, but sometimes it needs help with reseeding to encourage quicker growth to prevent soil erosion and/or mudslides, according to the US Forest Service.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Of all the areas needing to be seeded and re-planted, trees and planting efforts just aren’t keeping up with the rates of fires.

According to the New York Post, a biologist named Owen Burney is hoping to help future forests in burned areas by conditioning trees to be resistant to droughts and harsh conditions.

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Burney owns a large tree nursery in the US Southwest and he brings his seedlings to the point of death and back several times (by depriving them of water) to get them ready for the drought-ridden conditions of the “real world.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, Burney can only produce around 300,000 of these seedlings per year, which does not come close to replacing the number of trees burned.

Reforestation is said to help combat climate change, protect watersheds, and prevent soil erosion and mudslides, points that have driven public enthusiasm and US bipartisan support.

One of the biggest hurdles for reforestation is funding.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

According to the New York Post, David Lytle, the service’s director of forest and rangeland management and vegetation ecology, explained that funding is thing slowing reforestation efforts the most. He said that the US Forest Service spends over half its budget on fire prevention and fighting, and was even granted $7.4 billion funding. However, the funds for replanting after a burn have not grown since the 1980s.

The majority of wildfires in the US happen on US Forest Service Land, which only replants around 6% of what needs to be replanted each year.

In an effort to help the worsening situation, World Economic Forum launched a campaign with a goal to plant 1 trillion trees by 2030. The campaign initiative has gained support from US corporations, foundations, and some politicians.

Photo: flickr/Kaibab National Forest, Arizona

Because replanting is such an issue, lawmakers have introduced legislation, the Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees Act, to the infrastructure bill that is being presented to Congress.

With the REPLANT Act, 1.2 billion trees would be planted over the next 10 years, with the help of a $30 million annual cap budget.

The nursery owner, Burner, summed it up best when he said: “If we’re trying to do anything related to climate change, carbon sequestration, then trees need to be in the ground.”

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