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One billion trees: State nurseries work to help with federal reforestation goals

State nurseries work to help with federal reforestation goals
Posted at 12:26 PM, Aug 25, 2022

In northern Colorado, Matt McCombs walked around the state’s nursery where thousands of trees are grown.

“Right here, there’s about 30,000 to 40,000 seedlings in production,” Matt McCombs, director of the Colorado State Forest Service, said as he walked around the Colorado State Forest Service’s tree nursery. “We’re one of the few states left in the intermountain West that has a functioning state nursery.”

From seed to being planted in the ground, this operation plays a vital role in reforestation efforts on public, private, and state lands.

“Reforestation is basically the planting of trees,” he said. “We've supported planting efforts in Wyoming, in Utah, in New Mexico.”

The Biden Administration recently announced a goal of planting more than one billion trees in the next decade to reduce the forest service’s backlog and combat climate change.

“Impacts from insects and disease, or wildfire, or flooding are all disturbances that can take out a stand of trees,” he said.

But McCombs says trees provide important benefits.

“Clean air, clean water, abundant habitats,” he explained.

Forestry practitioner Jeff Ravage says restoring forests is crucial for helping with extreme weather events caused by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He is also part of a nonprofit ecological restoration organization in Colorado.

“Since the last ice age, the average amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was about 180 parts per million,” Ravage explained.

Ravage says now that’s closer to 420 parts per million.

“Trees happen to be the ones that live a long time and absorb a lot of carbon over their lifetime,” he said.

This nursery in Colorado is currently struggling to meet any new demand.

“We're not taking any orders. We’re at peak capacity with staffing and our current infrastructure,” McCombs said.

But with the help of state and federal dollars, he hopes to double or triple the current capacity.

The Replant Act, which is part of Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law, will play a role in helping these nurseries expand.

“We expect anywhere upwards to $100 million to $150 million a year to be available for reforestation efforts all across the country,” McCombs said.

With the added funds and more support, he said the idea of plating one billion trees may not seem as daunting as it sounds.

“The way you get to one billion trees is one tree at a time,” McCombs said. “We don't necessarily get to see the full benefits in our lifetime, but we know we’ve put a down payment on a positive future for our kids and grandkids.”