How to Plant 50 Million Trees with the National Forest Foundation

Wes SwaffarEnter­ing the sec­ond year of a five-year cam­paign to plant 50 mil­lion trees by 2023, the non-prof­it Nation­al For­est Foun­da­tion still has some ground to cov­er. The good peo­ple at the foun­da­tion aren’t too wor­ried about the ambi­tious bench­mark of 50 mil­lion trees though, at least not over­ly wor­ried, includ­ing Wes Swaf­far, the Direc­tor of Refor­esta­tion and Part­ner­ships. Swaf­far sat down with The Clymb to talk about the increas­ing need for refor­esta­tion, the dif­fer­ent ways to con­tribute (one dol­lar = one tree), and the gal­va­niz­ing sup­port already behind this grow­ing campaign.

The Clymb: What is the need for refor­esta­tion across America?
Wes Swaf­far: Most every­one knows that fires are a huge issue across the West. They may or may not be aware of oth­er kind of defor­esta­tion that is going on in our nation­al forests due to insects and dis­ease. All told there is a total of one mil­lion acres that need refor­esta­tion. That rough­ly equates to 150 mil­lion trees that are need­ed. When we see die off events like we are see­ing in Cal­i­for­nia where 129 mil­lion trees are dying, or wild­fires that are burn­ing a half-mil­lion acres at a time, we as a coun­try need to ask our­selves the ques­tion, what’s our plan here?

Rim Fire
Rim Fire, California—courtesy Unit­ed States For­est Service

The Clymb: What are going to be some of the ben­e­fits of plant­i­ng 50 mil­lion trees by 2023?
Swaf­far: We’re going to be look­ing at tens of thou­sands of acres that will be restored, that would in some cas­es oth­er­wise not be for­est in the future. Water pro­vi­sion is a huge val­ue of our nation­al forests. Putting trees back in the land­scapes helps slow infil­tra­tion of water, or improve infil­tra­tion of water and reten­tion. Wildlife ben­e­fits in terms of habi­tat. Recre­ation and scenic and aes­thet­ic val­ues as well. Of course, car­bon stor­age. Once plant­ed these trees, are accu­mu­lat­ing car­bon through­out their lifetime.

“When we see die off events like we are see­ing in Cal­i­for­nia where 129 mil­lion trees are dying, or wild­fires that are burn­ing a half-mil­lion acres at a time, we kind of need of need to ask our­selves the ques­tion, what’s our plan here?”

—Wes Swaf­far, Direc­tor of Refor­esta­tion and Partnerships

Deschutes National Forest Metolius River
Metolius Riv­er, Deschutes Nation­al Forest—courtesy Unit­ed States For­est Service

The Clymb: How do you decide where to plant trees?
Swaf­far: We are not able to plant at every sin­gle loca­tion and not every for­est needs plant­i­ng. The areas that are plant­ed are plant­ed in very strate­gic ways such that as that stand matures it’s going to be a seed source or adja­cent to an area that is going to come back sometime.

The For­est Ser­vice ben­e­fits from doing this for over a hun­dred years, there’s a lot of thought and inten­tion that goes into the process.

Tree Planted
Tree planted—courtesy Nation­al For­est Foundation

The Clymb: The Nation­al For­est Foun­da­tion plant­ed a remark­able 2.6 mil­lion trees in 2018, what do you think is need­ed to reach the goal of 50 mil­lion trees by 2023?
Swaf­far: I real­ly believe that it’s going to be kind of a snow­ball type cam­paign. What we’re learn­ing is that in order to get there we need a lot more aware­ness. It’s chal­leng­ing to start with the fact that not that many peo­ple actu­al­ly know about nation­al forests. A lot of peo­ple know nation­al parks, they know nation­al parks real­ly well, nation­al forests do not have the kind of pub­lic aware­ness cache that parks do.

So (aware­ness) is a chal­lenge that we are going to get through, and we are doing that pri­mar­i­ly through a lot of our part­ner­ships. That has been a huge help to have these amaz­ing com­pa­nies step for­ward and not only give us the sup­port we need to do these projects, but also real­ly tell their cus­tomers, their ven­dors, their employ­ees, that this mat­ters and to get engaged and con­nect with us.

The Clymb: What are some of the ben­e­fits these cor­po­ra­tions and small busi­ness­es are see­ing from their part­ner­ships with this campaign? 
Swaf­far: First and fore­most, folks are reach­ing out to us with a gen­uine phil­an­thropic inter­est, peo­ple who want to do right. Most of the folks that reach out to us feel as though sus­tain­abil­i­ty or envi­ron­ment stew­ard­ship is a core part of their company’s DNA or phi­los­o­phy. It’s super inspir­ing to hear from peo­ple look­ing to make a dif­fer­ence. We get phone calls every day from peo­ple across the coun­try that are like a small, floor­ing com­pa­ny in Flori­da or a home design com­pa­ny in Seat­tle, or Star­bucks or Busch Beer. We count our­selves lucky to have the endur­ing rela­tion­ships we do with our partners.

While their pri­ma­ry moti­va­tion is phil­an­thropic, it is a part­ner­ship, so they’re look­ing for a lit­tle bit of recog­ni­tion. They are look­ing to be affil­i­at­ed with a cred­i­ble, non-prof­it part­ner that has good cre­den­tials and is well respect­ed. So, they are get­ting recog­ni­tion and more than any­thing I’ve noticed is that they just real­ly like being a part of this big, excit­ing cam­paign. This cam­paign has gal­va­nized sup­port and real­ly trig­gered a lot of peo­ple to reach out in sup­port of our forests.

The Clymb: For those not part of a cor­po­ra­tion or small busi­ness, what are some of the ways an indi­vid­ual can con­tribute to the cause? 
Swaf­far: We have a peer-to-peer fundrais­ing plat­form which can be a pret­ty fun way of reach­ing out to your online com­mu­ni­ty and invite peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate. Cer­tain­ly, indi­vid­ual dona­tions are great and much appre­ci­at­ed. On a more basic lev­el, talk­ing about the cam­paign, shar­ing this idea, rais­ing aware­ness of refor­esta­tion needs, is huge and very mean­ing­ful way to get involved. If any­thing, just vis­it a nation­al for­est, if you’re there you will care. If you can’t expe­ri­ence it, or it’s dis­con­nect­ed in your mind, you can’t real­ly care about it.