Forested land in Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Forested land in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Credit: David Hepworth via Flickr.

When one thinks of Oklahoma, one thinks of plains, great comfort food, and friendly down-to-earth residents. But, with vast expanses of grasslands, what does Oklahoma offer in terms of forests?

Oklahoma is actually considered a crossroads for a variety of forest types: western grassland meets eastern woodlands, while there are Ozark hardwoods, nearby Ponderosa pines from the Rockies and swampy cypresses near Louisiana all intermingling. In fact, despite ubiquitous images of grassland, approximately 28 percent of Oklahoma’s land is forested.

In 1995, American Forests helped contribute to this forested area in a relatively unconventional way. While we’re used to getting our hands dirty with tree planting, we decided to take it one step further — by replanting former landfills!

The story began one year earlier, as in 1994, Environmental Protection Agency Subtitle ‘D’ required cities in Oklahoma to either comply with new regulations on landfill operations or to close their landfills and utilize approved sites. Several communities closed their landfills as a response to this mandate, and many covered former landfills with topsoil and planted them with grass.

However, four communities in particular wished to do more. The communities of Clinton, Cordell, Thomas and Weatherford all agreed to instead transform these former landfills into viable forested spaces. After the sites were prepped appropriately, more than 61,000 trees across 290 acres were planted across these four former landfills. At all sites, the planted trees have worked to help prevent soil erosion, increase wildlife habitat, capture rainfall that would otherwise leak through the landfill to cause potential water problems and establish tree cover in Western Oklahoma where few wooded areas exist.

With an ever-increasing population within the United States, ensuring that environmental protective measures are in place is often a concern for many environmental organizations, including American Forests. We have continued this work of planting along former landfill space, including returning to Oklahoma for 1996’s Lindsay landfill planting and planting in Virginia for 2000’s West Ox Road Landfill Restoration. In addition to restoring aesthetic value, enhancing carbon storage and filtering runoff, these projects’ significance lies in demonstrating the feasibility of reforesting closed landfills and the benefits and values of ecologically intelligent end-use management.