Planting trees helps climate change and creates jobs
Rarely in our nation’s history have we simultaneously managed two crises at the scale of COVID-19 and climate change. This perfect storm demands quick-start solutions that address both simultaneously.
One such solution is something both political parties, as well as many corporations and nonprofit organizations, supported even before the storm hit — planting billions of trees across the United States to naturally capture carbon emissions while generating thousands of new jobs.
For example, in January, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. will join a new global effort, 1t.org, to plant and conserve 1 trillion trees by 2030. Congress has matched the president’s ambition with bold new legislative proposals, such as the Trillion Trees Act, Reforestation Act of 2019, Climate Stewardship Act and TREES Act.
With 40 million Americans filing unemployment claims over recent weeks, this kind of federal leadership has an urgency not seen since the Great Depression. In those dark times, my organization, American Forests, worked with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to establish the Civilian Conservation Corps, which planted 3 billion trees and employed 3 million Americans, primarily in our national forests.
It’s more apparent than ever that we, once again, need to turn trees into jobs.
Trees in America’s vast rural landscapes and densely-populated cities already are a powerful engine for our economy. More than 2.5 million Americans work in the forest sector and this sector accounts for 1.5 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. This includes forest restoration: One study found each $1 million invested in activities like tree planting can produce as many as 39.7 direct, indirect and induced forest-related jobs.
Here’s how to make trees — the best nature-based solution to climate change — an even more powerful economic engine:
Reforest America’s Public Land. America has 20 million acres of public land in need of reforestation — enough land to employ hundreds of thousands of Americans planting 6 billion trees. Here’s a start: removing the outdated cap on the U.S. Forest Service Reforestation Trust Fund would free up an additional $90 million annually from existing tariff receipts that were originally set aside for reforestation. This would employ almost 4,000 people in rural communities and keep our national forests covered in trees.
Plant Millions of Trees Across Cities and Small Towns. Trees can clean the air and shade homes while delivering homeowners more than $7 billion in energy savings. We can help cities and small towns by providing federal matching grants for planting trees matched with pre-employment funding to help people impacted by COVID-19 job losses transition into urban forestry positions with city agencies and private tree care companies.
Build a “Tree Engine” with New Nurseries. To reach our reforestation goals, we need trees. But there are not nearly enough tree nurseries in America to meet rising demand for tree planting. We can solve this by creating more nurseries — and nursery jobs. The nursery sector already employs almost 250,000 people. We can create thousands more jobs by granting federal funds to states, tribes and local governments to reopen and expand dormant nurseries and establish new ones.
Create a Modern-Day Civilian Conservation Corps. The capstone employment strategy should be reorganization and relaunch of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Reforestation these days is often done by guest workers who are here on visas. We need to take special steps to engage and train U.S. citizens so they can take advantage of our increased public investment in tree planting across cities and rural landscapes. The federal government can lead this mobilization by reimagining and expanding its complex system of conservation corps and job corps training centers so they integrate people who are newly unemployed due to COVID-19.
With strong leadership from the Trump administration, this could be possible under current legal authorities and funding, turning our investment in trees into an investment in our people.
With the impact of COVID-19 job losses and climate change bearing down on us, this is the moment for America to be bold with our public investments and actions, just as we were during the Great Depression. The impact on America’s people will be immediate, and the impact on our land, air and water will be lasting.
Jad Daley is the president and CEO of American Forests.