According to the Arbor Day Foundation, “Trees offer cooling shade, block cold winter winds, attract birds and wildlife, purify our air, prevent soil erosion, clean our water, and add grace and beauty to our homes and communities.”
They are a natural marvel providing lasting benefits many of us fail to realize as we go about our day.
As climate change has become increasingly problematic and Earth Day celebrated globally on April 22, many agree that planting more trees is the solution to help safely and effectively absorb carbon emissions, and the U.S. is undoubtedly trying to do its part.
It sounds simple enough until you consider a new study in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change.
The study reveals that unless tree nurseries across the U.S. begin increasing their production, there will not be enough seedlings available to be impactful against climate change. The current estimation is that tree nurseries will need to produce at least three billion seedlings per year. That’s more than double what they’re currently producing.
In the late 1980s, more than 2.6 billion seedlings were produced each year in the U.S. alone. But after the 2008 recession, which forced many small tree nurseries across the country to close their doors for good, that number dropped to less than one billion.
The estimated seedlings needed yearly will require the addition of new nurseries to meet the goal while expanding production existing nurseries that are currently not at maximum capacity.
Furthermore, long-term monitoring will be necessary to ensure that newly planted trees survive the threat of pests, diseases, wildfires, and droughts, which are often difficult to predict and catastrophic to new and old trees alike.
Dan Rider, associate director of the Maryland Forest Service, identified the main challenge for growers.
“We’re trying to predict today, like literally right now, ‘Well, what’s the market going to look like in two years?’ In the nursery business, you have to spend all of your money today for site prep, fertilizer, and everything else that goes into the ground … and you won’t get that money back for two years.”
Add in the continuing struggle to obtain and retain qualified labor, and the burden becomes almost unfathomable for tree nurseries.
Study co-author Greg Edge, a forest ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division, says, “It’s not just about planting a tree. It needs to be done thoughtfully and well, because you can’t just stick a tree in the ground and come back in 100 years and have a forest. It takes an immense amount of money, labor, and patience to turn a seed into a sapling. We don’t want to just waste our time sticking a seedling in the ground that’ll die.”
While every tree planted is impactful against climate change, it will take an army of seedlings that survive their first few years to truly make a difference.