Close this search box.

Study: A trillion trees will cost nurseries billions & they ‘can’t grow nearly enough seedlings’

By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter

The push to plant billions of trees in the United States to fight climate change is about to run into a supply chain snafu: Nurseries can’t grow nearly enough seedlings.

Nurseries would need to more than double their production, to 3 billion seedlings a year, to reforest even half of the 133 million acres that is available for reforestation by 2040, according to the nonprofit group American Forests. Ramping up production could cost nurseries as much as $6 billion in expanding greenhouses and buying land, the group said — and that doesn’t include building new greenhouses from scratch.

Researchers with American Forests, the Nature Conservancy and other groups published those and other findings in a study in the science journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change.

American Forests and the Nature Conservancy called on federal policymakers to extend more help to nurseries and to boost funding for Forest Service reforestation programs, including the agency’s own nurseries that raise trees for national forests and other settings.

“Nurseries are businesses. They need that assurance,” said Brian Kittler, American Forests’ senior director of forest restoration. “They need clear demand signals.”

The goal of planting more trees has wide acceptance among policy groups and lawmakers of both parties on Capitol Hill. In the House, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), a trained forester, introduced the “Trillion Trees Act” last year. A bipartisan group of senators proposed a different version called the “Trillion Trees and Natural Carbon Storage Act.”

Lawmakers differ, however, on some details, including how closely the planting of trees should be tied to the timber industry. Westerman is an advocate for logging, but many congressional Democrats and environmental groups support an approach that doesn’t envision as much commercial harvest.

Whatever the trees’ ultimate fate, American Forests said the government must do much more to clear the way for increased planting.

Existing nurseries could expand to plant an additional 1.4 billion seedlings a year, the group said, although their capacity varies widely by region. The South and the Pacific Northwest are already set up to take perhaps 90% of such an increase, but California, the Southwest and the Plains have a more serious shortage of nurseries, they said.