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US climate change reforestation plans face key problem: lack of tree seedlings

In an effort to slash carbon emissions and provide relief from extreme heat, governments across the nation and globally have pledged to plant trees. But the US is not equipped with the tree seedlings to furnish its own plans, according to a new study.

US tree nurseries do not grow nearly enough trees to bring ambitious planting schemes to fruition, and they also lack the plant species diversity those plans require, according to research published in the journal Bioscience on Monday,

For the study, 13 scientists examined 605 plant nurseries across 20 northern states. Only 56 of them – or less than 10% – grow and sell seedlings in the volumes needed for conservation and reforestation.

The team, led by two scientists at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, also found that forest nurseries tend to maintain a limited inventory of a select few species of trees, with priority placed on trees valued for commercial timber production. As a result, nurseries suffer from an “overwhelming scarcity of seedlings” that are well-suited for climate plans, the authors write.

“Despite the excitement and novelty of that idea in many policy and philanthropy circles – when push comes to shove, it’s very challenging on the ground to actually find either the species or the seed sources needed,” said Peter Clark, a forest ecologist at the University of Vermont, who led the new study.

The research comes as swaths of the US face relentless heatwaves. Phoenix, which has experienced record-shattering heat this summer, has said it intends to plant 200 trees a mile in select areas, and has invested $1.5m into the plan. Many US municipalities have made similar tree planting pledges.

On the federal level, the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided money for the US Forest Service to plant more than 1bn trees in the next nine years. And the World Economic Forum also aims to help plant 1tn trees around the world by 2030.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2023