Closing the Reforestation Gap in the Western United States

Tree sprouting in the middle of a burned forest.
Image by Gelgas Airlangga from pexels

A Critical Imperative for Our Forests

Reforestation is crucial in mitigating climate change and maintaining the health of ecosystems, especially in the Western United States, where wildfire activity and deforestation have dramatically altered landscapes. This study by Dobrowski et. al. (2024)  examines the current state of reforestation in the US, its impact on climate, and actionable strategies to enhance these efforts for a sustainable future.

The Growing Challenge of Reforestation

The Western United States has experienced severe deforestation due to logging, urbanization, and frequent wildfires. Despite various reforestation initiatives, the scale of tree planting has not kept pace with the increasing need. Seed collection, nursery production and tree planting will all need to be scaled up to meet the need for additional trees throughout the United States. However, the drive to increase the output of trees faces significant challenges. 

Effectiveness of Reforestation Efforts

Reforestation serves as a powerful tool for sequestering carbon dioxide, thus playing a significant role in climate change mitigation. Forests act as carbon sinks, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. According to recent studies, strategic reforestation in the Western United States could sequester substantial amounts of carbon, aiding in the reduction of greenhouse gasses. However, the effectiveness of these efforts depends on several critical factors:

  1. Species Selection: Choosing tree species resilient to climate change and local conditions is essential. Native species adapted to the regional climate have shown higher survival rates and better growth.
  2. Water Availability: Ensuring adequate water supply, especially in drought-prone areas, is vital for the survival of saplings.
  3. Soil Health: Techniques such as adding organic matter and reducing soil erosion are necessary to restore soil health and support tree growth.

Scaling Up Reforestation: Strategies for Success

To close the reforestation gap, the authors conclude that it is imperative to adopt comprehensive strategies that address the root causes of deforestation and enhance the success of reforestation projects. Developing detailed reforestation plans that consider local climate, soil conditions, and biodiversity goals is critical. Engaging local communities in these projects not only enhances success rates but also provides educational and economic benefits.

The biggest challenge in scaling up reforestation in the U.S. is revamping the supply chain. Climate change is pushing more hardwoods into forests, which need different planning due to their tricky seeds. Many hardwood species have recalcitrant seeds, making storage difficult. Expanding reforestation efforts in the less-developed interior western U.S. will require the use of locally sourced seedlings (often hardwoods) and developing local services to support diverse forest management.

Leveraging Open Source Data & Code

The open data cited in this study can be downloaded here

Dobrowski also cite several free online reforestation tools: 





Subscribe to Ground Truth

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.