Entering 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?
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
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.
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.