America’s national forests are taking a beating. Climate change is supercharging extreme wildfires, droughts and outbreaks of pests and diseases. These threats have grown so severe that many forests can no longer regrow on their own. They need our help.

In July 2020, a bipartisan group of congresspeople introduced the Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees Act, known as The REPLANT Act, to provide the United States Forest Service with funding to plant or support the natural growth of more than 1.2 billion trees over the next decade. This work would also create nearly 49,000 jobs and capture carbon dioxide equal to the emissions from 85.3 billion gallons of gasoline.

The REPLANT Act would safeguard the critical role healthy forests play in providing clean air and water, absorbing carbon and mitigating the impacts of climate change, protecting wildlife habitat, creating outdoor recreation opportunities and preventing mudslides that wash out roads.

Our national forests are in urgent need of reforestation

Historically, the U.S. could rely on natural regrowth to restore forests after a catastrophic event such as a severe wildfire. Now, because climate change has made threats to forests more severe, natural regrowth only occurs 40% of the time. Foresters have to plant the remaining 60% to ensure that the right forest returns in the right place.

Nearly 4 million acres of our national forests need reforestation immediately. But the U.S. Forest Service cannot keep up. The agency has reforestation activities planned on more than 1.3 million acres, leaving two-thirds of the need unmet. Unless we take swift action to replant and restore more of these forests, we risk their permanent loss.

This work is urgent. America’s forests and forest products are a climate powerhouse, sequestering nearly 15% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. The quicker a forest regrows healthy trees, the faster it can provide water filtration, carbon storage and other benefits.

Fixing the Reforestation Trust Fund

The REPLANT Act would modernize the Reforestation Trust Fund established by Congress over 40 years ago to reforest our national forests. The Reforestation Trust Fund is funded by tariffs on imported wood products and while these revenues have grown over the past 40 years, the funding available to the Forest Service has not. When Congress established the Fund in 1980, it put restrictions on how much funding the Forest Service could use from the Fund.

The REPLANT Act would remove this artificial limit, freeing up additional money for the Forest Service to reforest and restore our national forests. REPLANT would provide essential funding to address the growing reforestation backlog without increasing or altering tariffs or relying on taxpayer dollars.

Benefits for our economy and environment

Ramping up reforestation in our national forests will have huge payoffs for our economy and environment. The REPLANT Act’s benefits include:

  • More than 1.2 billion trees planted and regenerated on our national forests each decade
  • Nearly 49,000 green jobs per decade, primarily in rural communities hard hit by COVID-19
  • Capture of almost 758 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over the new trees’ lifetimes — equal to the emissions from using 85.3 billion gallons of gasoline
  • Protection of drinking water sources, important since 180 million Americans — 55% of the U.S. population — rely on forests for their drinking water
  • Expanded outdoor recreation opportunities in public natural areas like national forests
  • Restored habitat for wildlife that roam our national forests, such as the grizzly bear

The fat-rich seeds of the whitebark pine are a favorite food of grizzly bears.
Photo Credit: H. Michael Miley

Case study: REPLANT Act could help grizzly bears’ favorite tree

Whitebark pines are a keystone species in high-elevation forests across the western U.S. These hardy pines thrive where few other trees can grow, creating crucial forest habitat on mountain slopes. Their fat-rich seeds are a favorite food of grizzly bears and birds called Clark’s nutcrackers. They also shade snow and create snowbanks, preventing the snow from melting too quickly in the spring — crucial for regional water supplies.

Whitebarks are rapidly going extinct due to a non-native disease, blister rust fungus, as well as intense droughts and fires made worse by climate change.

The REPLANT Act would free up critical funds to bring back whitebark pines. Scientists agree that the best way to stop the pine’s extinction is to plant whitebark seedlings screened for natural resistance to blister rust. Money from the REPLANT Act could fund efforts to grow and plant disease-resistant seedlings on a scale large enough to ensure the species’ future.