New Study: U.S. Needs to Double Nursery Production

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New Study: U.S. Needs to Double Nursery Production

1.7 Billion More Trees Needed to Meet Climate, Jobs, Fire Recovery Goals

March 2, 2021

Washington, DCIn order to realize the full potential of reforestation in the United States, the nation’s tree nurseries need to increase seedling production by an additional 1.7 billion each year, a 2.4-fold increase over current nursery production. These numbers, taken from a new studyshow the promise of increased nursery output as a way to fight climate change, create jobs, and recover from uncharacteristically severe wildfires.

With more than 200,000 square miles in the United States suitable for reforestation, ramping up nursery production could offer big benefits for the climate. Restoring forests is an important nature-based solution to climate change and a compliment to the critical work of reducing fossil fuel emissions.

To meet the need for reforestation, we’ll need to invest in more trees, more nurseries, more seed collection, and a bigger workforce,” said the study’s lead author, Joe Fargione of The Nature Conservancy. “In return we’ll get carbon storage, clean water, clean air, and habitat for wildlife.

The study, published in the science journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, was co-authored by 18 scientists from universities, nonprofits (including American Forests)businessesand state and federal agenciesThe study is the most comprehensive look to date at the barriers to ramping up seedling production in the U.S.

Nurseries are critical to our national carbon removal ambitions but they face serious labor and funding shortfalls,” said American Forests Senior Director of Forest Restoration Brian Kittler, one of the study authors. “New ‘green recovery proposals from the Biden administration, such as the Civilian Climate Corps, could grow the country’s reforestation workforce. At the same time, removing the outdated cap on the Reforestation Trust Fund would free up more money for the U.S. Forest Service to grow and plant trees.

Nearly 34 billion tree seedlings are needed in order to just get halfway to the 133-million-acre potential by 2040, focusing on the land that has the highest potential for reforestation. But tree nurseries in the U.S. currently produce only 1.3 billion seedlings per year. They would need to increase annual production 2.4-fold, to more than 3 billion seedlings, by 2040.

To achieve this large increase, investment is required across the entire reforestation “pipeline.” Additional investment would be needed to expand capacity for seed collection and storagetree nursery expansion, workforce development, and improvements in pre- and post-planting practices. To encourage nursery expansion, low-interest or forgivable loans in addition to long-term contracts, will be needed. Across the pipeline, achieving this scenario will require public support for investing in these activities, plus incentives for landowners to reforest. The investments will create jobs in rural communities, not only in nurseries but across the whole spectrum of reforestation activities from seed collection, to preparing sites for planting, to post-planting management activities essential to growing healthy young stands.

There are several existing reforestation programs in the United States that could be scaled up to put the new study’s information to work.  On public lands this includes the Reforestation Trust Fund, which can be enhanced via the soon-to-beintroduced federal REPLANT Act to fully fund reforestation of America’s national forests. On private lands, they include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), as well as state conservation agency cost-share programs.

Given the large opportunity for reforestation across the country, more funding will be needed, particularly for federal and state agencies that lack a stable, dedicated funding source for reforestation, such as the Department of the Interior.

In the United States, hundreds of millions of acres are potentially reforestable. Currently, most lands in need of reforestation are not being reforestedThis problem is being exacerbated by the increasing need to reforest after fires – which are becoming increasingly large and severe due to a century of misguided fire suppression and climate change.  Only by increasing our capacity to plant trees will this need be met. 

Media Contact: Jill Schwartz,, 202-903-1135 

February 28th, 2021|Categories: AF News, Climate, Media Release, Policy|