Four steps to reforest the West for climate resilience

Tree planters monitor ponderosa pine seedlings for climate adaptation in California. Photo Credit: Austin Rempel/American Forests
Bark beetles devastated the forest lining the shore of Grand Lake in Colorado. Photo Credit: Don Graham/Flickr
  1. Site Assessment and Planning: The first step is to assess each burned area for its own unique context. We can use science to determine which burned areas are positioned to naturally regenerate, sometimes with a little help, and which ones need tree planting. This prioritization must also overlay other considerations: climate threats; which burned areas are most important for water supply protection or are most at risk of mudslides; and which areas have the greatest value for carbon sequestration, habitat, recreation and wood supplies. Additionally, having post-disturbance plans in place will help speed up reforestation response times. Rapid reforestation is important in order to contain competition from shrubs and invasive species.
  2. Align Tree Species and Genetics: For areas that we determine need to be planted, we can use cutting-edge scientific tools and traditional ecological knowledge to assess which tree species and genetic strains are best matched to current and future climate conditions. Then we must work with local seed collectors and tree nurseries to collect the right seeds and grow the right seedlings to match this climate-resilient planting approach, and to ramp up seed and seedling supplies dramatically — doubling or more in most locations. We can set these seedlings up for success by using new growing techniques in nurseries that will better prepare seedlings for harsh conditions in the field like drought.
  3. Climate-Smart Planting: It is not just about selecting the right trees themselves, but also how we plant them. Climate-smart planting must include the right site preparation to address wildfire damage to soils and other site repairs, such as stabilization. We must also match the number and distribution of trees planted on the landscape to our new climate realities, including water availability and fire frequency. This climate-resilient forest structure might look very different from the forest that just burned, such as having fewer trees per acre in chronically drought-stressed landscapes.
  4. Adaptive Management and Research: No matter how well we craft reforestation for climate resilience, we must be ready to learn as we go. We can do this through intensive research and evaluation of replanted areas and management-scale experimentation. But climate change is playing out quickly. We need to be ready to manage reforested areas to adjust their composition and structure based on these observed results, and to use tools like prescribed fire to keep these growing forests maximally aligned for wildfire resilience. For public lands, this means providing the policy guidance, staffing and funding to adaptively manage these reforested lands for climate-resilience.

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American Forests inspires and advances the restoration of forests, which are essential to life.

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American Forests

American Forests

American Forests inspires and advances the restoration of forests, which are essential to life.

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