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Trillion Trees: Reducing Wildfire Risk, Protecting People and Wildlife

Posted by Aurora Cutler, Office of Sustainability and Climate, USDA Forest Service in Forestry
Aug 28, 2020
Trees in the background with smoke in the foreground
Currently, the USDA Forest Service has opportunities to increase reforestation rates on 1.3 million acres of national forests, including 700,000 acres of tree planting and 600,000 acres of activities to ensure successful natural regeneration.

An opaque, autumn haze smothers much of the western United States from the millions of acres burning across forests in the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. Fire size and severity are rising in tandem with record heat, low winter snowpack, decreased summer rains, and abundant forest fuels. Wildfires in the West doubled in total size between 2000-2015 compared to the previous 15 years, burning an average 6.8 million acres annually in the last decade. This trend has wide-ranging consequences on the health and productivity of our national forests, our drinking water supplies, and wildlife habitat.

That’s why the U.S. Chapter of 1t.org (us.1t.org), launched today, and supported by the USDA Forest Service, will enhance the long-term resilience of national forests by planting trees and restoring ecosystems over the next 10 years. Planting trees after catastrophic wildfire is becoming increasingly more important to the sustainability of our forests, especially in areas where wildfire wipes out entire stands and the seed source necessary to forests’ natural regrowth.

The USDA Forest Service manages national forests using a variety of active management techniques to increase resource resilience while sustaining the many benefits and services wildlife and people need and enjoy. Healthy forests support natural stream systems and watersheds, filtering drinking water for 180 million Americans. Our national forests are an important source of rural prosperity, providing forest industry jobs to more than 2.5 million Americans. Wildlife thrives in our national forests.

In areas where we have lost forests to fire, the trillion trees platform provides an opportunity to accelerate the renewal or reproduction of forest benefits, like carbon sequestration and clean water, over natural rates by tapping the expertise and resources of our many partnership groups and other state and local agencies. Currently, the USDA Forest Service has opportunities to increase reforestation rates on 1.3 million acres of national forests, including 700,000 acres of tree planting and 600,000 acres of activities to ensure successful natural regeneration.

Current active forest management techniques, to regenerate, replace, and grow more resilient forests in the future, reduce the likelihood of severe wildfire. By using novel planting techniques we can create forests with more resilience to future wildfires.

The USDA Forest Service is protecting lives and property in forest adjacent communities, with timber harvests, reducing high fuel risk stands, and hazardous fuel treatments, including mechanical thinning and prescribed burning. Our primary tools to address these risks are reducing the amount of hazardous fuels and limiting the number of healthy trees on specified terrain. Hazardous fuel treatments on national forests protect roughly 60 million to 200 million trees per year from wildfire. This year, the USDA Forest Service plans to treat 3.5 million acres of hazardous fuels.

With the momentum of trillion trees platform, it is evident how active forest management can ensure sustainable and resilient forests will endure for future generations.

A wildfire near trees
In areas where we have lost forests to fire, the Trillion Trees initiative provides an opportunity to accelerate the renewal or reproduction of forest benefits, like carbon sequestration and clean water, over natural rates.
Category/Topic: Forestry

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Comments

Louisa Vestner
Aug 27, 2020

WE NEED MORE GREAT STORIES OF ALL THE POSITIVE THINGS BEING DONE TO MITIGATE
MORE FOREST FIRES.
THANK YOU FOR SHARING THIS PIECE AND WE APPLAUD THE " TRILLION TREES INITIATIVE" .
Thank you,
Louisa Vestner from Boca Grande, FLORIDA

Harry Statter
Aug 28, 2020

Thanks for the article. It is “almost” the right approach.

Fire is a good process for nature. The path forward is to balance existing patterns in nature. To do so, it requires reestablishment of natural fire regimes. To be great stewards of the environment, the objective is to manage invasive species post fire. Building a robust seed bank of native plant species and being vigorous with invasive species management is the right approach.

Attempting to alter natural fire regimes will simply result in more failure. Let’s acknowledge that we cannot control nature. Let’s acknowledge that the objective is to balance colonization within the natural processes that have been shaping our planet for millennia, and to do that we cannot “fight” fire. We simply have to coexist with it like we do with the rain, the snow, and the wind.

Megan Jones
Sep 15, 2020

While planting trees may seem like a great idea, what is being done to restore the soil and peatlands first? I’d read an article from Nat Geo from April 2019 and scientists referenced an excellent point. Simply replanting in areas ruined, particularly those by recent fires, may be a recipe for disaster considering the dry soil and dry moss it can lead to as the trees utilize and pull water from the existing soil.

Also, how would someone learn about opportunities to get involved or volunteer? I’d love to find out more about the various things we can do to help restore or improve our forests!