Tree planting is a tangible action that can retain and increase carbon storage on natural lands. Planting trees is one of many actions that we can take to address climate change that can also help to promote resilient, healthy, and productive forests and communities.
The United States recently joined the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Tree Initiative, which is committed to working toward the goal of protecting, conserving, planting, and growing one trillion trees globally by 2030. Learn about important tree planting and climate connections below and read more about the initiative at 1t.org.
The following are some important concepts to consider when making decisions about tree planting. A planted tree is part of a broader ecosystem, and to support the full ecosystem, tree planting efforts can also prioritize actions that:
- Keep forests as forests to reduce the severity of climate-related stressors on trees and wildlife. Larger and more connected forest blocks can reduce the severity of climate-related stressors on trees and wildlife. Long-term planning efforts such as conservation easements and legacy planning can reduce fragmentation of woodlots, helping to protect planted trees and forests.
- Reduce stressors that can compromise a growing forest such as invasive species, forest pests, pathogens, and deer herbivory. Protect planted trees and choose trees that can support a diverse forest able to withstand threats and provide future seed sources.
- Address vulnerabilities and climate-related risks by promoting diverse species and forest structure. Maintaining a single tree species may put the forest at risk over time, compared to promoting a variety of native tree species tolerant to a wide range of conditions. Similarly, a diverse forest structure can help a forest handle a variety of climate-related risks. Supplementing a growing forest with tree plantings will enhance diversity and eventually provide more food and habitat for wildlife.
Resources to help explore this topic
Frequently Asked Questions (6 questions)
- Are forests part of the solution to climate change?
- Can we stop climate change just by planting trees (perhaps, 1 trillion trees)?
- I want to take action - does it matter what tree I choose to plant?
- Once I plant a tree, I can be happy that I've done my part and walk away...right?
- How much carbon can I reasonably expect my tree sapling to sequester?
- Why plant trees in urban areas?
1. Are forests part of the solution to climate change?
Yes! Trees are an important part of the climate solutions puzzle. Trees and forests can reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) and help to store carbon above- and below-ground. Planting trees that are adapted to a warmer climate while working to sustain the forests that we already have and growing more forests, are actions that can help us respond to climate change right now and into the future.
Take action today to address climate change on your lands and to integrate climate change into your project level plans.
Read the executive order (2020) that promotes tree planting as a climate solution (external link):
2. Can we stop climate change just by planting trees (perhaps, 1 trillion trees)?
No – yet trees are one of our best solutions. Planting trees and taking actions to sustain and grow forests are some of many options that we can take to address the climate problem. Policy decisions and collective actions are necessary to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet trees are an important piece of the puzzle that will help sequester carbon and reduce warming and CO2, while providing important ecosystem services and community benefits.
Where can this work be done?
Some areas may be a better fit for tree planting and serve to accomplish landscape goals to sustain forests, and to grow new forests; areas such as urban forests, flood-prone lands, and non-productive and unused agricultural lands are all places where tree planting can really make a difference. Taking time to collaborate with regional partners at a landscape scale can help us identify forests to jointly protect and prioritize lands where forests can be restored. Landscape level planning can harness the eagerness to grow trees as a climate solution while supporting the many co-benefits that forests provide to communities. Large, connected tracts of forest lands not only help to address climate change risks, but serve as critical wildlife habitat, can help to reduce stormwater runoff, store, and purify water and reduce heat islands by providing shade.
3. I want to take action - does it matter what tree I choose to plant?
Yes, and we can act today. The climate has already changed and will continue to change. Conditions for current tree species are changing with the climate. This means some trees may not be able to cope with warmer seasons, longer growing seasons, and more extremes - sometimes far drier than normal (micro-droughts) and other times far wetter (extreme rain events). Trees are long lived species, therefore reforestation plans that reflect a long-term outlook and include considerations of a changing climate and changing tree habitat, may help to ensure broader conservation goals are robust and resilient to future risks. When choosing what tree to plant, we can use tools to help us determine species that may be better suited to a changing climate.
4. Once I plant a tree, I can be happy that I've done my part and walk away...right?
Yes and no. Planted trees may require occasional monitoring and maintenance to ensure they are growing properly and are in healthy condition. Often, once a tree is planted the job is not done. Keep in mind:
Monitor planted trees to ensure they are taking hold and growing
Protect trees from physical damage caused by people and animals
Check on and care for trees during or after intense seasonal weather like drought, wind, and extreme events
5. How much carbon can I reasonably expect my tree sapling to sequester?
It’s complicated! Estimating the carbon stored in an individual tree depends on many local and landscape factors. For instance, the amount of carbon stored above-and below-ground in the soil depends on factors such as the tree species, growing conditions, and location of the tree. We can use tools to estimate approximately how much carbon a tree can store and sequester, given some assumptions about site and climate. Use the tools and resources provided below to better understand the science, policy, and management options we can take to encourage carbon sequestration.
Estimate carbon storage in a single tree and wood products, and also quantify the many benefits and values of trees for neighborhoods and communities (external link to tool)
Learn about Forest Carbon Science, Policy, and Management at the USFS Climate Change Resource Center
6. Why plant trees in urban areas?
For all kinds of reasons! Trees and forests are important components of urban, rural, and natural landscapes; they support biodiversity, water and air quality, comfortable urban environments, human health, and culture. </p>
Planting trees in urban areas can provide immediate and future benefits related to cooler summertime ambient temperatures, lower energy bills, and safer streets, just to name a few. Urban area tree cover is often sparsest in socioeconomically disadvantaged and historically racially segregated neighborhoods. Much of the urban forest is made up of trees planted on private residences, therefore planting trees or protecting existing trees from removal on private property are some of the best ways to sustain a growing urban forest.
Trees can also have an important role to play in urban agriculture. Community food forests can serve as a place to convene, to teach about gardening and science, and of course, to grow food. Farmers can use trees to support biodiversity or control erosion by planting appropriate trees as windbreaks or riparian buffers. Conservation easements that incorporate trees can potentially provide supplementary income as well.
Read more about the social and economic benefits of urban and suburban trees, and access information on tree equity at American Forests (external link).
Learn more about equity in urban forestry
Have additional questions? Feel free to contact us today!