USA TODAY Reports on Reforestation Backlog

Replanting is the only option in forest areas where natural regeneration is unlikely.

As severe wildfires scorch more of the USA each year, reports USA TODAY writer Patrick O'Driscoll, the Forest Service is falling further behind in replacing trees lost to fire, insects and disease because of shrinking budgets and mounting costs of fighting the blazes. The USA TODAY article, Reforestation lags amid record wildfires, was published on December 21, 2006.

According to a recent Forest Service report, a backlog of 1.1 million acres needed replanting in 2005 (the most recent analysis available). Wildfires burned 9.6 million acres in 2006, and with the 2007 wildfire season already starting, the number is likely to increase.

I'll give you one word: crisis, says forest ecologist Tom Bonnicksen in the USA TODAY article. Only 3.8% of the areas burned in California in 2001 were reforested. That, to me, is a crisis.

Not all burned forests need intensive replanting. Some tracts will reseed naturally. But many forests can burn so severely that replanting is the only option. If the forests aren't restored, states O'Driscoll, erosion can mar the land, damage wildlife habitat and ruin the water quality of streams that contribute to the nation's water supply.

Major fires in the western U.S. since 2000 have increased the need for trees, according to the Forest Service report. Yet there has been a steady decline in replanting since 1990. I'm concerned about our ability to do the appropriate level of reforestation, states former Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth in the article.

A 2005 study by the Government Accountability Office warned that neglected reforestation could make wildfires worse, reports O'Driscoll. The report said that without new trees, burned areas will fill in with brush and weeds, which can dry out quickly and become volatile fuel for more fires.

The article reports that various groups and businesses are donating funds and seedlings to help restore forests in need. In 2004, these donations accounted for 12% of reforestation spending. I'd like to double that over time, states Chief Bosworth.

More: The urgent need for trees.

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