Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a strategy for how the Biden Administration will address a reforestation backlog of four million acres of national forests and plant more than one billion trees over the next decade.

Vilsack said that the USDA will tap new resources from President Biden’s bipartisan Build Back Better Infrastructure law, combined with support from state, local, and tribal governments, as well as other partners to plant more trees. The Forest Service will develop the infrastructure, such as nurseries, to keep up with increasing needs.

The Forest Service has spent more than $100 million on reforestation this year – more than tripling the investment in previous years due to the Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees (REPLANT) Act made possible by the infrastructure law. Vilsack claimed that these 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 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.”

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 with significantly more resources every year to do so.

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said that the reforestation strategy 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 [in] 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 [in] national forests is dependent on these strong partnerships.”

Vilsack and Moore said that the strategy 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, Vilsack announced thirteen 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 Vilsack.

Vilsack said that prioritizing climate in how the USDA makes decisions will be critical in protecting people, resources and livelihoods.

Vilsack said that with its oversight of the National Forest System and work with other federal agencies, states, private landowners, and Tribes, the climate adaptation efforts of the Forest Service (FS) are far-reaching. Climate adaptation and mitigation efforts on the part of the Forest Service, they claim, are closely linked due to the role of forests as critical carbon sinks and the increased risk of wildfire and other climate stressors. The Forest Service’s Climate Adaptation Plan describes how it will implement science-based, climate-adapted land management solutions to meet the needs of present and future generations.

It is not clear if the reforestation efforts will include firebreaks and road access to allow firefighters to access and contain future wildfires or not. The inability to rapidly access many forestlands with firefighters and equipment meant that many of the forest fires in recent years could not be easily contained. Removing old and dead trees from the forests is another strategy to keep highly flammable materials from building up in the forests. More livestock grazing of national forestlands is another strategy that could also be employed to keep undergrowth from building up, limiting the amount of fuel for future fires.

The Biden Administration is expected to announce more executive actions to fight high temperatures and climate change this week.

Alabama is 72% forested, though most of Alabama’s forestlands are in private hands. Landowners should talk with the Farm Service Agency and their local Soil Conservation Service office to learn about new incentives to assist private landowners in reforestation efforts, if any.

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