The Biden administration has unveiled new plans to restore woodlands beset by drought, insect infestations, and wildfires, including planting more than 1 billion trees on federal lands.
While most forests singed by fires are able to regrow on their own, some in the U.S. have been so thoroughly scarred by intense blazes that they would need decades to recover. More than 4 million acres of forest need to be replanted, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday.
To erase that backlog, the agency is seeking to plant 400,000 acres of forest annually, a marked increase over the 60,000 acres planted last year, the Associated Press reports. As it scales up its work, the Forest Service will have to quadruple the number of seedlings grown in nurseries, according to its reforestation plan.
The effort will be supported by money from the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year, which allocates funds for the U.S. Forest Service to plant 1.2 billion trees. The agency will spend as much as $260 million annually on reforestation, up from $100 million this year, AP reports.
“Forests are a powerful tool in the fight against climate change,” Secretary of Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “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.”
Wildfires have burned through 5.6 million acres so far this year, putting the U.S. on pace to surpass the record 2015 fire season, which saw 10.1 million acres burned. Among the most notable casualties of recent wildfires are California’s giant sequoias, the world’s largest trees, which have seen their numbers drop by nearly 20 percent in the wake of recent blazes.
Last week, the Forest Service announced new steps to protect the giants by removing smaller trees and shrubs that grow near sequoias and allow fires to climb into into the forest canopy. Conservationists praised the plan, which calls for felling small trees and administering prescribed burns, among other measures.
“A giant sequoia is born in fire, when normal wildfires open their seeds and begin a lifecycle that can last thousands of year,” Kameran Onley of the Nature Conservancy said in a statement. “But the wildfires sequoias face today are far from normal and only growing worse and more frequent in a changing climate. We’ve already lost too many sequoias, and if we do not act, we’ll only lose more of these iconic trees forever.”