Tuesday, April 06, 2021

State-run nurseries growing fewer trees; that makes it harder for forest owners trying to replant after fires

Rows of conifers grow in a Washington state Department of Natural Resources greenhouse. (Photo from Stateline)

Wildfires have damaged millions of acres of forest in recent years, but many forest owners are having a hard time replanting because the state-run nurseries they once relied on for seedlings have shut down. Eight states have shut down their nurseries in the past 20 years, and while 29 states still operate nurseries, many have shuttered some of their facilities, Alex Brown reports for Stateline.

In Oregon, which shut down its nursery program over a decade ago, forest owners have had a hard time finding the right seedlings from the private sector. "Large, commercial nurseries typically grow large tree orders on contract, supplying industrial timber companies that plan operations years in advance. State-run nurseries provide a more diverse array of species to landowners, allowing smaller orders on short notice," Brown reports. "The declining state production has hurt small landowners, who own the largest share of the nation’s forests. Private sector nurseries often lack many of the tree species offered by states, and they rarely accept small orders. In many cases, nursery closures have led to cutbacks in state research and breeding programs that produce trees more capable of withstanding the effects of climate change."

Seedling production at state-run nurseries fell 28 percent between 2016 and 2018, according to the National Association of State Foresters. "In 2018, state nurseries produced 123 million seedlings, about a tenth of the nation’s total," Brown reports. "The are many reasons for the closures. State nurseries often have to cover their own operating expenses through seedling sales, and they’ve struggled to break even on the unpredictable speculative market. They’ve also faced political pressure to reduce capacity or close, as private growers bristle at competition from the public sector."

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