America has deep roots in reforestation

President Trump recently announced that the United States will join the Trillion Tree Campaign, a movement to plant, restore and protect that number of trees around the world.

In pledging U.S. involvement in the international campaign — which has already planted more than 13 billion trees — the president builds on a long tradition of reforestation by the United States.

“We’re committed to conserving the majesty of God’s creation and the natural beauty of our world,” Trump said earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Trees are an important part of combating climate change because they soak up and store carbon dioxide as they grow. A trillion trees could capture 25 percent of all human-made carbon dioxide emissions. This would help to keep the global temperature rise at less than 2 degrees Celsius, according to Plant-for-the-Planet, the group behind the campaign.

Animated illustration of trees growing on bare hills (State Dept./B. Insley)
(State Dept./B. Insley)

A growing trend

The Trillion Tree Campaign will accelerate the long trend by the U.S. to reforest.

In 1920, the United States had 292 million hectares of forest land, according to the U.S. Forest Service. As of 2016, the U.S. had 304 million hectares of forest land covering about a third of the country.

That land ranges from boreal forests (ones with high latitudes and cold temperatures) in Alaska to pine plantations in the southern part of the United States. Most forests are situated in the western part of the country.

A line of men bending over and planting seeds (© AP Images)
Civilian Conservation Corps workers plant 15 million trees in southern Mississippi in 1940. (© AP Images)

Reforestation programs have been a crucial part of managing resources since before the Forest Service was established in 1905. Federal forest management dates back to 1876, when Congress launched the Office of Special Agent within the U.S. Department of Agriculture to gauge the conditions of forests.

Soon after, the Organic Administration Act of 1897 established national forests and improved and protected them while ensuring conditions are favorable to continuous water flow as well as a steady supply of timber.

Tree-planting programs commencing in the national forests in the early 1900s reestablished tree seedlings after massive wildfires.

The Knutson-Vandenberg Act of 1930 established forest-tree nurseries, making it mandatory for timber purchasers to make deposits covering the cost of reforestation and related work within sale boundaries. Ninety years later, this law still ensures reforestation needs are met within timber-sale areas.

The long view is important in reforestation, and the Trillion Tree Campaign will help the reforestation of America to grow even stronger for years to come.