Secretary and Chief Roll Out New FS Reforestation Strategy

If the Old Growth comment period feels like Groundhog Day, this feels like Back to the Future.

WASHINGTON, July 25, 2022 — Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a strategy for how the Biden-Harris Administration, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will address a reforestation backlog of four million acres on national forests and plant more than one billion trees over the next decade.

With new resources made available through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, combined with support from state, local, and Tribal governments as well as other partners, the Forest Service aims to eliminate the backlog over the next 10 years and develop the infrastructure, such as nurseries, to keep up with increasing needs.

The Forest Service has invested more than $100 million in reforestation this year – more than three times the investment in previous years – thanks to the Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees (REPLANT) Act made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. These historic investments will help mitigate the impacts of climate change, rebuild in the aftermath of devastating wildfires and strengthen America’s forestlands.

“Forests are a powerful tool in the fight against climate change,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Nurturing their natural regeneration and planting in areas with the most need is critical to mitigating the worst effects of climate change while also making those forests more resilient to the threats they face from catastrophic wildfire, historic drought, disease outbreaks and pest infestation.”

Before the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and REPLANT, the Forest Service was only able to address about 6% of its post-wildfire reforestation needs. The REPLANT Act directs the Forest Service to plant more than a billion trees over the next decade, removes a cap of $30 million and is now expected to provide the agency significantly more resources every year to do so.

According to Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, the reforestation strategy (PDF, 7 MB) will serve as a framework to understand reforestation needs, develop shared priorities with partners, expand reforestation and nursery capacity, and ensure the trees planted grow to support healthy, resilient forests.

“Our reforestation efforts on national forests only increase through strong partnerships with other federal agencies, tribes, state and local governments, communities and organizations,” Moore said. “We recognize that successfully increasing reforestation on national forests is dependent on these strong partnerships.”

Secretary Vilsack and Chief Moore said that the strategy announced today is an important first step in realizing the goals laid out in President Biden’s direction to scale up climate-smart reforestation and also supports the Forest Service’s 10-year strategy to cut wildfire risk, protect communities and improve forest health.

In addition to the reforestation strategy, Secretary Vilsack announced 13 new USDA agency climate adaptation plans, which outline how each USDA agency will incorporate climate change into their operations and decisions to support communities, agriculture and forests nationwide.

“Our climate adaptation plans represent a blueprint for how we account for the risks our changing climate has on those groups most vulnerable to its effects – America’s farmers, ranchers, forest landowners and rural communities,” said Secretary Vilsack.


Center for Western Priorities, in reporting on this,

The Biden administration plans to replant trees on millions of acres of forest affected by wildfires and other symptoms of climate change, like insects and droughtWarming temperatures and less rain mean hotter and bigger fires are taking out trees more rapidly than in the past, leading to a backlog of 4 million acres of forest in need of replanting. This comes on the heels of legislation passed last year requiring the Forest Service to plant 1.2 billion trees in national forests, called the REPLANT Act.


But this replanting effort could be stymied by the very conditions that precipitated it, as many seedlings won’t be able to survive to adulthood due to climate change. That’s according to Joe Fargione, science director for North America at the Nature Conservancy.

“You’ve got to be smart about where you plant,” he said. “There are some places that the climate has already changed enough that it makes the probability of successfully reestablishing trees pretty low.”

If changes will be such that seedlings won’t be able to survive to adulthood due to climate change, one wonders how we would know whether such changes will affect young trees more than old (presumably less vigorous) trees. I actually don’t think that that’s known by anyone.

I’m also not sure that there are places on FS land where “the climate has changed enough that it makes the probability of successfully reestablishing trees pretty low.” Everywhere I look that has been burned (and where seed is available) I see the same species growing back (without being planted). What does it look like where you live?

22 thoughts on “Secretary and Chief Roll Out New FS Reforestation Strategy”

  1. A noticeable lack of discussion in their strategy about the appropriate use of herbicides. I remember looking at some test plots years ago in the Plumas National Forest looking at manual versus herbicide release treatments. The manual treatments were much more expensive and much less effective. At this point, the Forest Service is very talented at creating brush fields. I’d hate to see them continue to do so while throwing a couple hundred dollars per acre down the drain in planting costa as well.

    • For better or for worse, here is an example of checkerboarded land ownership. I worked on the Power Fire salvage projects, and I was surprised to see how close the results match. The Forest Service got a late start in planting and herbicide application, and the resulting ceanothus and bearclover was ‘disheartening’. They have done great in reforesting this area, under existing rules, laws and policies.,-120.3390377,575m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

      Untouched ‘control group’. Never salvaged, planted or treated.,-120.3528229,288m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

      • The primary reason the Power Fire area looks close to decent is they were able to use the tens of millions of dollars ($30-ish million if I recall correctly) in settlement money to do a lot of fuel work. With that much money, they could have mulched each seedling with dollar bills.

        There is an ever-growing body of science showing the one can get fire back into a reforested PIPO stand without much mortality earlier than the conventional wisdom suggests, but managers are reluctant to do it for fear of killing their babies. Not to mention, the power fire was reforested with pines in lines, yet, many of the leading fire scientists and ecologists are suggesting that reforestation should not be done with even spacing.

        The Amador was begged to manage the Power Fire plantations differently by the collaborative and the regional ecologist wrote a management strategy for it, supported by the collaborative, that the forest ignored. I have received push-back from many managers (not all) when I’ve suggested planting or thinning plantations using an ICO approach, but many have gone for 1980s forestry instead due to presumed loss of annual increment and fear of doing something new. Ironically, I thought this recent study was interesting, finding that an ICO patter for planting resulted in higher growth rates than pines in lines:

        The Forest Service (at least in R5) has a lot to learn about reforestation. They need to stop trying to follow the industrial forestry model, which is burning up at alarming rates, and focus on just getting it to be a resilient forest as soon as possible.

  2. Who will plant these trees? Fast-food chains are offering $15 to $17 per hour to start, plus sign-on bonuses, and they’re struggling with a labor shortage.

    I hung up my hoedad many years ago….

    • That’s the problem. I paid my top planters $15 to $17/hour (“hundred dollar days”) on good units and contracts 40 years ago. Then came the migrant workers doing “low bid” contracts on federal lands, and in about 10 years had completely reformed the industry. My average workers were more like $10/hour at a time in which a house could be rented for $250/month, gas was 60-cents a gallon, and taverns still featured “dimers and drown” events. Nineteen-cent hamburgers and 25-cent milkshakes.

      Work quality has declined in the intervening decades, wages have stagnated, and our forests are being destroyed. Oh, yeah. “Climate change.”

    • Similarly, who will inspect the planting contracts? In the past, the Forest Service would ‘conscript’ Temporary Employees to learn how to make inspections on large projects. While I haven’t seen any updates on how the Forest Service’s permanent staff hiring event went, my thoughts are that it didn’t go well.

  3. More good money thrown after bad. Planting trees in heavy brush underneath standing snags, as shown by the cover photo, is both dangerous and costly. And a waste of time. No site prep and no herbicides – and how are planters even following a line? But mostly, who is paying for this mess? And why aren’t proven practices being employed?

    Also, given our increasing problems with wildfires, homelessness, and illegal immigration, it is important to note that all of the tree planters seem to be Mexican migrants, whereas the local planners are mostly white, with some blacks. No Mexicans making the plans for the reforestation projects they will be expected to implement. For “low bid.” Modern day slave labor, and the quality of work on USFS lands the past few decades reflects that lack of quality.

    USFS advertises that it is interested in employing actual experts — experienced and knowledgable individuals — that have retired, but looking for consulting work. I’ve made two contacts and gotten zero feedback. These folks need help — and local businesses need to become involved, again. In my opinion.

    • Hey Bob, my old college of forestry had an 82 acre clearcut planted this past February, at a total cost of $92.00/acre – including seedlings! 36,000 seedlings, crew of 10, less than 2 days. The forest service just wishes they could do as much. Of course that was delta country in Arkansas; you have to carry in rocks to kill a snake….🤣

  4. Reforestation backlog, take 2. When I was a pup we had a similar issue needing to reforest a large number of acres due to lack of funding over a large number of years, the funding was pushed by a pair from Oregon who were chairs of the appropriations committees in the Senate and House. It did work last time, hopefully there will be the desire to continue to fund for 10 years.

    • The funding is provided by a permanent increase in the Reforestation Trust Fund. When it was created, the Reforestation Trust Fund was limited to $30 million per year. It is now limited by the amount of tariffs on imported timber, which is over $100 million per year currently.

  5. Modeling work done on the Rio Grande NF about 10 years ago provided some direction on where to plant different species of trees for the greatest potential success for the future. In my mind, there is a lot of speculation that goes into these models, but it is better than nothing. I have been suggesting for more than 30 years that Engelmann spruce be planted under an aspen cover crop and recently a forester told me that idea seems to be getting some legs. Survival rates for planted E. spruce seedlings has always been low on the RGNF (with some notable exceptions from plantings done 40+ years ago) and growing under an aspen overstory may improve that rate. The model also predicted that bristlecone pine would no longer be able to reproduce on the RGNF by 2050. In some areas, RGNF foresters are considering planting D-fir where E. spruce used to grow.

    • Mike, a good silviculturist, schooled in ecological succession (what Dr. Fred Hall used to espouse), actually walking the ground to look at reforestation potential will beat a “model” any day.

      Agree with your assessment of ES under an Aspen canopy!

      • No. It was done by a couple people from the GMUG NF. I sat in on their presentation and poured over their maps but it was never put online. I think I had an electronic copy of their Power Point which I used to write an article for the local papers, but I’m retired now with no access to any of that.

      • Sharon, I finally added an email and it corrected. I was being told “spam”, or “duplicate comment submitted” but nothing ever showed up. First attempt was about 1600 MDT yesterday; first accepted post was this morning. I haven’t a clue why.

  6. What’s wrong with more prairies, meadows, fens, brakes, balds?

    If they start now, which is to survey and identify species, site, seed trees, and collection infrastructure for cone gathering permits, buying stations, EIS compiling, ad nausea, the question will be where is the nursery ground, seed and seedling processing, refrigeration, human expertise. Clinton NW Forest plan made half the Ranger districts infrastructure surplus, sold or razed.

    I’m almost 80. Been to that rodeo before: politicians with no idea of how to get there from here and depending on interns and snot nosed college youthful ignorance advising them with “woke” diverse ideas trying to reinvent the wheel.

    30/70 chance of success or failure.

    • I have personally implemented the ‘clumps and gaps’ idea into cutting units, although it was much harder to find gaps that needed to be bigger. With a 30 inch diameter limit, sometimes you run into patches of big trees, and very little understory to thin. It makes a lot of sense to leave that 2 acres alone, and ‘bump on through’. I had a good eye for seeing these clumps. Usually, the gaps are flagged out of the cutting unit, and I’m not ruthless enough to make those bigger, without direction from above.

  7. It’s about danged time; that, and I really think the 4 million acres is off by 2 times that value! Are they restarting the “super tree” concept? Are they building new tree nurseries to replace the ones shuttered? How about animal damage control response and prevention? Inquiring minds want to know….

    As for climate changes on the ground, we used to call that reclassification. Mostly occurs where site challenges occur from fire effects on the soil, to destroy nutrients and cause severe erosion on steeper souls. These areas sometimes went from commercial timber lands to non-forest (Eastside, Pacific Northwest country), but also seen in Regions 2 and 3, and I imagine in 1, 4, and 5 too. In Region 3, site conversion to juniper, where pine burned away in severe fire (Wallow and Rideo-Chedeski), along with sterile soil is probably near a million acres alone (counting Tribal and FS)!

    On the right track but time will tell if this is (as we say in the South) “shore ‘nuff”, or just money down the proverbial rat hole….. I sure hope it flourishes!


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