A tiny white pine emerging from the forest floor at Upper Manitou Forest Preserve.
White pine seedling A tiny white pine emerging from the forest floor at Upper Manitou Forest Preserve. © Derek Montgomery

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New Tool Shows Reforestation Potential in Minnesota

A new tool provides the most comprehensive look to date at the potential to reforest the contiguous United States, focusing on the most cost-effective and feasible options. This online, interactive “Reforestation Hub” identifies up to 133 million acres of formerly forested lands in the United States that could be reforested to boost carbon storage.  This translates to 3.6 million acres in Minnesota. 

Besides providing clean air and water, shade, and wildlife habitat, trees remove carbon pollution from the air and store it in their wood. This ability to store carbon is a major tool to fight climate change. All told, the Reforestation Hub reveals how reforesting Minnesota could absorb an additional 5.7 million metric tons of carbon per year—equivalent to 1.2 million passenger vehicles. 

The Reforestation Hub allows users to explore the study’s findings. It identifies the number of acres — down to the county level — potentially available for different types of reforestation. The Reforestation Hub is a collaboration between The Nature Conservancy and American Forests.

Planting trees to restore forests where it makes good economic and ecological sense is a powerful natural solution to global warming.

Meredith Cornett Science Director

The Nature Conservancy and American Forests, who produced the analysis behind the Reforestation Hub, hope this analysis will help land managers and policymakers find the options that best meet local, state, and national goals around growing trees for public and private benefit.

“Planting trees to restore forests where it makes good economic and ecological sense is a powerful natural solution to global warming,” said Meredith Cornett, director of conservation science for TNC in Minnesota. “But prior to this analysis, there was no quick and easy way to figure out where exactly we might put all those new trees”

The Reforestation Hub uses several filters for identifying the most promising places for new forests: where forests grew in the past; current land ownership; land type; benefits to wildlife and watersheds; and cost. In sum, the study highlights the potential for 68 billion new trees to be grown across the country. Currently, only 1.3 billion trees are planted each year in the United States.

Among a “menu” of 10 different reforestation options, the Reforestation Hub shows three provide the most potential: formerly forested lands now used for pasture (49% of potential); floodplains (17%); and urban open space (14%). But the top results change by county, so the Reforestation Hub allows users to find the places with the most potential in their area.

Opportunities for reforestation over different land ownerships emerged, as well.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is seeking to increase the number of seedlings it produces each year to more than 10 million. However, much more needs to be done by state and private nurseries for Minnesota to reach even a fraction of the state’s reforestation potential.

For example, to reforest one million acres, Minnesota would need approximately one billion seedlings. Recognizing the need to scale up seedling production, the Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership and the University of Minnesota-Duluth are working with local farmers to establish a growers network that could help address the seedling shortfall. With start-up funding from the Institute on the Environment’s Impact Goal program, the Forest Assisted Migration Project, was initiated to help build a regional market for climate-adapted seedlings that will thrive under warmer conditions.

Foresters, land managers, and private landowners are encouraged to visit the Reforestation Hub to identify the best places, county by county, to grow new trees. The Hub’s landing page provides downloadable data that may be supplemented and refined with local knowledge and datasets. Questions about the Reforestation Hub and its underlying study can be directed to ReforestationHub@tnc.org.

About American Forests

American Forests is the first national non-profit conservation organization created in the US. Since its founding in 1875, the organization has been the pathfinders for the forest conservation movement. Its mission is to create healthy and resilient forests, from cities to wilderness, that deliver essential benefits for climate, people, water and wildlife.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.