Swift says he has a collection area that hasn’t produced a bountiful harvest for nine years. “There is no doubt in my mind” that this is the result of climate change, he said. Overall, crops are smaller and more sporadic than they were a few decades ago. “If this continues, I really don’t know what the nurseries will do for the seeds in 10, 20 or 50 years,” he says.
Seed orchards – trees managed with the intention of harvesting seeds – are a contingency plan against lower yields from the wild harvest. But neither have they escaped climate change. Last year’s wildfires destroyed a sugar pine seed orchard in the Klamath National Forest and another on Oregon Bureau of Land Management land. It was a devastating blow, as orchards take a long time to establish themselves, as trees need time to mature.
After collection, the the seeds are sent to nurseries, where they are grown as seedlings for planting. The study’s authors interviewed more than 120 nursery managers about barriers to scaling up their operations to meet reforestation needs. These issues range from spacing to staffing issues.
“We’re out of greenhouse space,” Brian Morris, program director at Webster Forest Nursery in Washington, told WIRED. “We actually have to work with outside producers to meet our demand. So for the last few years we’ve been basically running at full capacity. “
Finding enough labor has already been a struggle for nurseries. According to Morris, his nursery hires its in-house staff and seasonal contracts from farm labor, and those costs are increasing every year. Additionally, the study noted that immigration issues like visa restrictions often prevent migrant workers from entering the United States. For this reason, nursery operators and reforestation project managers often do not know how many workers will be available and whether their core team will be able to return. “Every year when we do these contracts and go through the hiring process, it’s a very stressful time,” Morris says. “We don’t know what we’re going to get each year.”
Last summer, Rep. Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Arkansas, wrote in The hill that without the H-2B visa exemptions, by 2020, “1.6 million acres of forest land would not be planted and nearly 1.12 billion seedlings would die.”
Nurseries are also grappling with the issue of retirement. Many long-time producers are leaving the company and few young people are coming behind them. There are only three forest nursery training programs in the entire United States, and increased urbanization has made rural nursery jobs less desirable. In fact, Webster’s program manager retired earlier this year; Morris is filling the role on an acting basis.
Fargione says if nursery operators want to expand their infrastructure and hire more workers, they’ll need a guarantee from the government or other big buyers that the investment will pay off. “They will have to add more land to develop, and that will require long-term guarantees for them on demand,” Fargione says. “So things like long-term contracts or low-cost or discounted loans to encourage them to make those investments.”
Morris wants more details. Before expanding his business, he wants to know which tree species the reforestation efforts will focus on next. Does this tree grow best in the ground or in a greenhouse? And what type of greenhouse? “There are a lot of questions,” he says. “Trees are more than just trees. There is a lot to be done in choosing the right infrastructure for the crop you are going to grow. “
Once the seedlings are cultivated, the steep slopes and the risk of fires make replanting forest land extremely expensive. For example, according to the National Forest Foundation, a single project to plant 8,000 trees in California cost $ 300,000 just to prepare the site.