SALEM, Ore. — Efforts to replant Oregon state forestlands scorched by the 2020 wildfires are being hampered by a short supply of new tree seedlings, the Oregon Department of Forestry said on Wednesday.
“Seedlings were already in short supply in Oregon before the fires,” said Kyle Abraham, Chief of ODF’s Private Forests Division. “Now, rough estimates are that somewhere between 80 and 140 million additional seedlings could be needed to reforest just the non-federal lands that burned in 2020.”
Those estimates are still preliminary, Abraham said, but the number of seedlings needed is likely two or three times the number typically needed for reforestation in Oregon each year.
Beyond the severity and size of the 2020 fires, ODF cited three other major factors in the shortage. Nurseries are facing labor shortages, making it difficult for them to ramp up production. Seedlings also have a short shelf life once taken from a nursery, and nurseries usually grow expressly for landowners who regularly buy seedlings — often filing orders years ahead of time. Moreover, there are few nurseries that specialize in the needed forest species.
“Trees must be grown from the appropriate seed – seed that is adapted to the area where it will be planted," Abraham said. "That generally takes two years. While seed inventories are generally strong for most areas of the state, there are some isolated gaps. We’re also working to help fill those gaps.”
ODF is working with Oregon State University's Extension Service and the Oregon Small Woodlands Association to address the need for seedlings. The latter two groups surveyed landowners about their needs, finding that the surveyed group alone needs about 3.5 million new trees to fully reforest.
“ODF has convened a working group with representatives from state and federal land management agencies, the forest and nursery industries, OSU Extension, and non-profit associations that serve small-acreage landowners to help address some of these needs,” said Abraham.
The group is now looking through a few options — procuring or growing seedlings first for smaller landowners in cooperation with private and public nurseries, finding ways to expand in-state nursery capacity, and developing the necessary logistical structure to collect and batch seedling orders for those smaller landowners.
Climate change means that seedlings planted today will grow and mature in different conditions than those that exist today, ODF said — meaning that seedling species need to be chosen and placed carefully.
Forestry officials have compiled a list of contractors for landowners who need help planting trees. ODF and the OSU Forestry Extension are also offering educational resources for people who want to plant trees themselves.
“I encourage landowners to reach out to forestry professionals, neighbors, and associations of woodland owners to identify resources and get answers for successful reforestation,” said Abraham.