Soil Health Success: Mulligan Farm shows that soil health practices can help improve economic performance 

Adapted from American Farmland Trusts’ Mulligan Farms Soil Health Case Study

  • Farmers across the US are embracing soil health practices, offering benefits like improved resilience, operational efficiency, and environmental advantages, such as reduced carbon emissions and enhanced water quality.
  • Forrest Watson’s successful adoption of soil health practices, including cover cropping and reduced tillage, has positively impacted his farm’s soil health, efficiency, and cost savings.
  • Federal funding from programs like EQIP and CSP is instrumental in expanding soil health practices nationwide, empowering farmers to transition to climate-smart methods and fostering their understanding of soil health benefits.
  • An economic analysis by American Farmland Trust reveals that an increase in farm net income can coincide with implementing soil health practices, despite increased costs in areas like seeds and crop inputs, while also contributing to improved soil health, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and enhanced water quality for addressing climate challenges.

Across the US, farmers have been adopting new farming practices that provide benefits not only to the farmer, but also to the environment. There are countless names for these adaptive practices including soil health, climate-smart, conservation, and regenerative practices. Although there are a variety of terms to describe these practices, they often refer to methods that improve soil health. With improved soil health comes a multitude of benefits including enhanced resilience of land to flooding and drought, improved field operation efficiency, and environmental benefits. These environmental benefits may include increased carbon storage in the soil, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced nutrient and sediment runoff into our waterways. Below we feature one farmer that participates in the Genesee River Demonstration Farm Network and has successfully adopted soil health practices, highlighting the economic and environmental benefits they have experienced.


Forrest Watson has farmed with his aunt Lesa and uncle Jeff on their 1,500-head dairy in western New York since 2008. Currently they farm 2,618 acres and practice an eight-year crop rotation with winter wheat, alfalfa/grass, corn, and occasionally other forage crops. 

The farm constantly seeks to improve efficiencies and provide the best care for their animals, lands, and employees. In this effort, Forrest learned about soil health through participation in conferences and readings. As a result, Forrest has adopted cover crops, reduced till farming, and a comprehensive nutrient management plan.

With the goals to improve soil health and productivity with fewer nutrient inputs, Forrest began experimenting with no-till and cover crops in 2015. He started experimenting with no-till on 75 acres of wheat. Since then, he now no-tills across his farm except for 150 acres of corn that he strip-tills. However, Forrest transitions strip-tilled fields to no-till as soil health improves. Both strip-till and no-till are methods of reduced-till farming, which can be defined as limiting soil-disturbing activities such as less frequent tillage, shallower, less intensive passes, and less area disturbed. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS), reduced tillage can improve soil health, reduce soil erosion, reduce energy use, and have positive impacts on air quality.

After an initial year of experimenting, Forrest went “all-in” with cover crops. This was possible, in part, due to the farm receiving financial assistance from the USDA-NRCS. When a primary cash crop is not present, cover crops can be sown in as an alternative to bare soil over the winter and early spring when precipitation is high. Cover crops have been shown to improve soil health, repress weeds, control pests, slow soil erosion, and enhance the availability of water. Cover crops also have climate benefits by increasing the total amount of photosynthesis that takes carbon from the atmosphere, which then can increase the total amount of carbon added to the soil each year. Forrest observes that the cover crops are improving the soil, enabling easier no-till drilling which in turn saves them time. “The feeling of needing to till due to compaction is virtually gone,” says Forrest. “We’re breaking up compaction with roots instead of iron.” 

In 2018, Forrest began ‘planting green’, which refers to no-till planting a cash crop into actively growing cover crops. The cover crops are then terminated, usually with herbicides, to enable the growth of the cash crop. The delayed termination of the cover crop enhances its benefits. 

Mulligan Farm works with consultants to implement a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan. Since 2008, Forrest has increased the frequency and intensity of their soil testing by introducing grid sampling, begun split applications of chemical fertilizers, and switched to injecting their manure. Manure injection is a relatively new technology to apply manure with minimal soil disturbance. These improvements have optimized fertilizer application rates, timing, volume, and location while reducing odor and nutrient loss.

Soil Health, Economic, Water Quality, and Climate Benefits 

American Farmland Trust (AFT) conducted a marginal analysis using the Mulligan Farm’s Cornell Dairy Farm Business Summary (DFBS) dataset from 1998–2019 to answer the question, “Can soil health practices be adopted while improving economic performance?”

This analysis looked at the benefits and costs before and after implementation of soil health practices. The study was limited to comparing crop production income and cost variables that differed between the conventional “before” period (1998–2014) and the soil health “after” period (2015–2019). Variables taken from the Cornell DFBS survey include acres, yield, production by crop, fertilizer, seeds, spray and other crop expenses, and various machinery expenses. More details on the approach of the analysis can be found here.

The DFBS data showcases that Forrest was able to adopt soil health practices while improving economic performance as the farm’s net income increased by $75 per acre per year, or $196,350 annually, for the 2,618-acre study area, achieving a 129% return on investment. 

One way the farm decreased costs was reducing the cost to hire, rent, and lease machinery by $27 per acre. This decrease was driven, in part, by the switch to no-till which reduces labor time and improves efficiency. The farm also decreased fertilizer costs by $11 per acre. According to Forrest, he has reduced fertilizer applications due to better nutrient capture with cover crops and injecting instead of spreading manure. Additionally, costs related to fuel, oils and greases decreased by $19 per acre.

Can soil health practices be adopted while improving economic performance?

There were also increased costs due to adoption of soil health practices. Although machinery costs decreased in the hire, rent, and lease cost category, they experienced an increase in repair, depreciation, and interest costs by $12 per acre. The cost of seeds across all crops increased by $8 per acre. Additionally, spray, such as herbicide spray for cover crop termination, and other crop input expenses increased by $38 per acre.

Overall, Forrest has increased net income. This is due largely to the increased value of crop production by $76 per acre and to the reduction of tillage passes. Additionally, yield resiliency also improved as the data showed more consistent annual yields, but this benefit is not included in the marginal analysis as difficult to value.

In order to estimate water quality benefits and greenhouse gas emission changes, researchers used  USDA’s COMET-Farm Tool to analyze one of Forrest’s 35-acre fields as a representative field. The results estimate that the farm’s use of no-till, cover crops, and nutrient management reduced nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment losses by 4%, 33%, and 60%, respectively, and resulted in a 252% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions, which corresponds to taking two cars off the road. With over 396 million acres of cropland across the US, emission decreases of this amount on one farm showcases the extensive potential for scaling up these benefits nationwide.

Like Forrest Watson, farmers can also adopt Soil Health Practices with financial support

To help Mulligan Farm adopt these soil health practices, the farm received assistance from two federal programs, which are supported by the federal Farm Bill. The Mulligan Farm received financial support from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides financial assistance to farmers to support them in integrating climate-smart farming practices on their lands. They also received financial support from the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for planting cover crops. The CSP works one-on-one with farmers to enhance existing efforts and develop a conservation plan integrating new conservation practices. Note that the financial assistance the Mulligan Farm received was not factored into the economic analysis conducted by AFT, indicating the benefits of soil health practices outweigh the costs even without federal assistance.

Farm Bill agriculture programs, such as EQIP and the CSP, offer routes to scale up adoption of soil health practices nationwide. These programs can assist through not only financial assistance, but also by supporting the data collection, research, reporting, and verification that is needed to further improve understanding of the benefits of soil health management. These programs are supplemented by the recently enacted New York state law, the Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act, which will provide additional support to the state’s farmers to adopt climate-smart practices.

Closing Thoughts

Mulligan Farm is committed to using the most environmentally friendly practices to guide crop production. “You can’t give up after the first little failure,” says Forrest. Adoption of these soil health practices supports improved operational efficiencies. For example, less labor going to tillage allows labor to go to activities that provide additional value like cover crop establishment, double cropping, and nutrient management. Forrest has observed improvements in soil health such as reduced soil compaction and more consistent and higher crop yields. Overall, Mulligan Farm has managed to improve economic performance while investing in soil health practices.

Additional Resources

Treesilience: Urban Forestry for Communities and Climate

Woman planting a tree in a suburban area with a caption that says "Urban-led Urban Forestry: The Treesilience initiative aims to reduce tree cover disparities by planting, maintaining, and replacing trees in urban neighborhoods, benefiting people, wildlife, and the climate.
  • Urban trees offer numerous benefits, including filtering air and water, conserving energy, providing animal habitat, and reducing energy costs. They can also mitigate carbon dioxide emissions significantly.
  • Disparities in tree cover exist between low- and high-income neighborhoods, as well as between communities of color and white communities. This inequity leads to various negative impacts on health and well-being.
  • The Treesilience initiative, a collaboration involving The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service, and community-based organizations, aims to reduce tree cover disparities by planting, maintaining, and replacing trees in urban neighborhoods. It prioritizes communities with the greatest need.
  • In Chicago, the Imani Green Health Advocates program trains advocates in urban forestry and community health, with a focus on planting trees in high-need areas. The program provides career opportunities and improves community well-being.
  • The St. Louis Treesilience program removes hazardous trees and replants two trees for every one removed, focusing on areas with threatened or lost canopy. It aims to improve respiratory health in communities with high air pollution rates and receives federal funding support for urban reforestation efforts.
  • Federal funding is essential for supporting urban tree canopy projects like Treesilience, utilizing grants from agencies like the USDA Forest Service to address tree cover disparities and promote reforestation, with efforts underway to amend legislation to ensure urban initiatives are integrated into broader reforestation goals.

The benefits of urban trees are well documented. According to the USDA Forest Service, “urban forests help to filter air and water, control storm water, conserve energy, and provide animal habitat and shade.” They also provide tangible financial benefits to communities, with one study finding that urban trees can reduce energy use in residential areas by an average of 7.2%, saving billions of dollars. 

Urban trees also provide benefits for climate. Indeed, research from American Forests and The Nature Conservancy reveals that planting 522 million to 1.2 billion trees in urban areas could mitigate between 8.7 million and 25.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year respectively – equivalent to removing between 1.94 million and 5.74 million cars from the road. To realize these benefits, it isn’t enough to just plant trees – it is also necessary to maintain the trees after they are planted to ensure that they survive and thrive. Failure to plan for trees’ long-term survival can lead to the rapid death of newly planted trees. It’s also incredibly important to maintain large, long-lived mature trees currently providing optimal benefits while new trees grow large enough to do the same. 

Unfortunately, the benefits of urban trees are not spread equitably across American communities. A national tree survey conducted by The Nature Conservancy, mapping urban tree canopy in 5,723 U.S. cities and towns reveals widespread inequity in tree cover between low- and high-income neighborhoods in U.S. cities, finding that, on average, there is 15.2% higher-tree cover in higher-income neighborhoods compared to lower-income areas. Furthermore, research by American Forests shows that the majority of communities of color have, on average, 33% less tree cover than the majority of white communities. This leads to higher temperatures, increased energy costs, fewer opportunities for outdoor recreation, and less resilience to storms and flooding in these communities. All these factors contribute to diminished health and well-being, particularly for communities of color, compared to white and/or affluent communities. 

TREE EQUITY Disparities in tree cover exist between low- and high-income neighborhoods, as well as between communities of color and white communities. This inequity leads to various negative impacts on health and well-being. The orange areas in the images above show areas with poor tree equity scores (including low tree canopy). Source: American Forests’ Tree Equity Score tool for south Chicago (left) and St. Louis (right).

Treesilience: Community-Led Efforts To Increase & Maintain Urban Tree Cover

Treesilience, a national initiative administered through a partnership among The Nature Conservancy, the USDA Forest Service, Davey Tree Expert Company, and myriad community-based organizations, agencies, and industry partners, began in Chicago in 2020, and then spread to Orlando and St. Louis. The initiative is aimed at reducing disparities in tree cover and eliminating barriers to healthy tree canopy by removing and replacing dead or dying trees, maintaining and pruning existing trees, and planting new trees in urban neighborhoods where tree canopy has been threatened or lost. Importantly, the Treesilience program does not just focus on planting trees – it also helps maintain existing mature trees to ensure they remain healthy and strong. Efforts are targeted toward communities with the most need using the best available science. The program is administered jointly with community organizations – like Imani Village, Missouri ReLeaf, Beyond Housing, and Pine Hills Community Council – and when possible, young emerging professionals from within the community are engaged in the work, providing new pathways for careers in arboriculture. 

Treesilience is currently active in Chicago, St. Louis, and Orlando, with plans to expand into additional U.S. cities and states. Read on to learn more about two of these programs.

Chicago: Urban Forestry with Imani Green Health Advocates & Treesilience

Rachel Patterson, a lifelong resident of the South Side of Chicago, initially believed that her Environmental Studies degree would not offer many career opportunities in her local area. However, her perspective changed when she discovered the Imani Green Health Advocates internship, the program through which Treesilience is implemented in Chicago.

This initiative, a collaboration between Imani Village, Trinity United Church of Christ, Advocate Health Care, Chicago Region Trees Initiative, The Morton Arboretum, The Nature Conservancy, and the USDA Forest Service, focuses on professional development and career training in three areas: environmental health, community health, and spiritual health. The advocates engage in outreach efforts within various neighborhoods on Chicago’s south and west sides, including Pullman, West Pullman, Cottage Grove Heights, Washington Heights, Roseland, and Chatham, addressing aspects of physical and mental health, landscape health, and spiritual well-being.

The Imani Green Health Advocates program is part of a larger, 23-acre, sustainable mixed-use development known as Imani Village, spearheaded by leaders and parishioners from Trinity United Church of Christ. Imani Village includes an urban farm, organic garden, NCAA sports complex, retail center, health clinic, youth development center, and community housing.

Sustainability and meaningful employment are central to Imani Village’s approach to community health, and this philosophy is reflected in the Imani Green Health Advocates program. The Advocates receive comprehensive training in urban forestry, tree health, and urban landscapes, with guidance from The Nature Conservancy and partners. 

COMMUNITY ACTION The Imani Green Health Advocates program trains advocates in urban forestry and community health, with a focus on planting trees in high-need areas. The program provides career opportunities and improves community well-being. Photos by Joel Zavala/TNC.

Now in its fifth year, more than 20 advocates have been a part of the program, helping survey tree health and canopy in Chicago’s neighborhoods, identifying ideal locations for tree planting, and setting a goal of responsibly planting 50 trees per year in high-need communities. The tree-health findings are incorporated into Advocate Hospital’s community health needs assessment, and today Chicago residents can also request a tree or tree removal through the City’s CHI311 mobile app. 

According to Patricia Eggleston, the Executive Director of Imani Village, the goal is to create a holistic and healthy lifestyle for the community, providing opportunities for meaningful careers and well-paid employment. As the program progresses, more permanent job placements are envisioned for the Advocates. For Rachel, the program expanded her resume through work with organizations like Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and Audubon Great Lakes. She has also returned to the program as a guest presenter, sharing her story and conducting workshops with new cohorts of Advocates.

The collaborative efforts of Imani Village and its partners not only aim to create career opportunities for local residents but also to empower the community and improve overall health and well-being. With the continued growth of the Imani Green Health Advocates program and the amenities provided by Imani Village, the South Side of Chicago looks forward to becoming a vibrant and sustainable community for its residents.

Treesilience St. Louis: Growing a Resilient Tree Canopy

A healthy urban tree canopy provides a multitude of ecological, economic and social benefits that can enhance the overall quality of life. But threats to these trees – like life-threatening tree insects or pathogens – can weaken and even kill trees over time. These threats are worsening over time, largely due to climate change. In brief, these life-saving organisms go from benefit to burden, sometimes in a matter of a few years as can be the case for ash trees impacted by emerald ash borer. Frustratingly, costs associated with tree removal or mature tree pruning can be prohibitive for many. And, the longer dead or dying trees remain on one’s property, the greater the risk they pose, which can leave residents feeling less favorable toward trees, understandably. Hazardous tree removals or pruning can bring peace of mind to homeowners and communities, and perhaps even begin to restore relationships with trees over time.

That was the case for Dorothy Collins, who lives in the Pine Lawn neighborhood in north St. Louis County. In December 2021, the St. Louis Treesilience program officially kicked off in her front yard with the removal of a large sweetgum tree that had a huge stress fracture and was posing a threat to her house and more importantly, her safety.

For every tree removed in St. Louis, the team replants two trees in its place through a partnership with Forest ReLeaf of Missouri’s tree nursery. 

The initiative focuses on areas where canopy is either threatened or already lost, and prioritizes communities where neighbors stand to gain the most from increased canopy, which is also the case for Collins. Communities in and around north St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis have high rates of air pollution and asthma-related hospitalizations.

“Community trees provide us significant benefits, and we believe that everyone deserves access not only to trees and greenspaces but to healthy trees and greenspaces,” Rachel Holmes, The Nature Conservancy’s urban forestry strategist, says. “Studies have shown that respiratory health can be improved by the expansion of healthy tree cover in areas with higher air pollution.”

The effects of Treesilience are lasting, but they start paying off immediately. At the program kick off, Collins shared her gratitude with the program partners for the removal and also her two new trees

“I’m thankful for everyone here and I’m relieved to get rid of that tree…I really am,” Collins said, adding that she is excited to watch her new trees grow.

Federal Support for Scaling Urban Forestry Program

Treesilience offers an important example of how combined federal funding sources that support both rural and urban forests can help advance the national climate agenda, overall, particularly through comprehensive reforestation. According to research shared by both American Forests and The Nature Conservancy through the Reforestation Hub, approximately 19% of the reforestation potential in the United States is in urban landscapes. Additionally, major tree insects and diseases are often discovered in urban trees and forests first. 

Federal funding sources that support Treesilience – which is, at its core, a reforestation program – include a grant from the USDA Forest Service’s Landscape Scale Restoration (LSR) competitive grants program, which leverages both public and private resources to support collaborative, science-based restoration of forested landscapes, particularly in rural communities. These funds support Treesilience in North St. Louis County, where the population size of the 24 individual municipalities that make up the region qualify as ‘rural.’ Accordingly, Treesilience is an example of how LSR funding can not only support this urban forestry program, but also help meet broader U.S. reforestation goals. 

Efforts are currently underway to revise the 2023 Farm Bill, the Congressional authority for the LSR grant program, to ensure that LSR applications for projects on urban landscapes may be fully considered alongside projects in rural communities, reflecting the need for a more comprehensive reforestation approach.

Programs like Imani Green Health Advocates (and/or organizations like Missouri ReLeaf) are also funded through generous support from the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry (UCF) Program, which recently received a $1.5 billion boost in funding under the Inflation Reduction Act. The UCF Program provides technical, financial, and educational assistance to help urban communities increase and maintain healthy tree cover, with an emphasis on providing assistance to nature-deprived communities. This program is also authorized through the Farm Bill, making that particular legislation indispensable to nationwide efforts to expand tree cover and ensure the benefits of trees are enjoyed in all communities, while also tapping into the full potential of urban trees to address climate change. 

Additional Resources

Soil Health Success: Herriman Farm Highlights Economic & Environmental Benefits of Soil Health Management

Adapted from American Farmland Trusts’ Herriman Farms Soil Health Case Study.

  • After facing setbacks from a flood and poor crop yields, Scotty Herriman who farms 2,000 acres in Oklahoma, learned about the benefits of soil health practices and received support through USDA’s NRCS to transition away from conventional methods.
  • The soil health methods he implemented, including no-till, cover crops, and enhanced nutrient management, led to increased yields, reduced erosion, and lowered greenhouse gas emissions:
  • A partial budget analysis showed that soil health practices increased Scotty’s net income by $4 per acre annually, with a 7% ROI. He also experienced yield increases, boosting soybean yield by 5 bushels per acre and corn yield by 40 bushels per acre.
  • Various programs, like EQIP and CIG, support farmers in adopting soil health practices, improving financial and environmental outcomes. Federal Farm Bill programs and initiatives like the Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities can further promote these practices.
  • Scotty’s experience emphasizes the learning curve and importance of sharing success stories to encourage informed conservation decisions in agriculture.

Scotty Herriman farms 2,000 acres near South Coffeyville, Oklahoma, with his wife, Jo. They grow corn and soybeans, and occasionally grain sorghum (milo) and wheat. After a historic flood in 2007 resulted in only 13 profitable acres, followed by a poor crop yield in 2008, it became clear to Scotty that he needed to change the way he farms his land.

Scotty heard about other farmers who had had success with practices like no-till farming  – which is planting agricultural crops without any plowing or tillage. A visit to his local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field office in 2010 finally changed Scotty’s mind. He learned he could use assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to switch to no-till. Just like that, decades of conventional farming went out the window. “We switched overnight,” Scotty said.

In recent years, more and more farmers in the U.S. have been adopting farming practices that provide multiple benefits for the farmer, the environment, and our climate. These strategies go by many names – regenerative agriculture, climate-smart agriculture, conservation agriculture – but they all refer to a suite of farming practices that improve soil health. This, in turn, sustainably improves farm productivity, enhances the resilience of land to drought and flooding, and provides a number of environmental benefits, including cleaner drinking water, increased carbon storage in the soil, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.


“No-till farming protects the soil from excessive erosion, reduces soil aeration from tillage, allows organic matter to accumulate and improves the overall health of the soil. Switching can also help you reduce input costs and, thus, boost your bottom-line profits. It is part of an integrated effort to conserve the nation’s natural resources.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS)

From Adversity to Achievement: Scotty’s Experience with No-till, Cover Crops, and Enhanced Nutrient Management

In 2010 Scotty adopted no-till soybeans and reduced-tillage corn. While this has led to some increased use of herbicide, adopting no-till has saved Scotty time, reduced equipment maintenance costs, and has led to significant positive changes in his soil. For example, Scotty sees that root channels from prior year plantings run deeper into the ground, which improve soil infiltration and create a more stable and resilient soil structure. Scotty has also seen higher quality crop stands that are less stressed by drought and pests due to increased crop vigor.

With the goal of reducing herbicide use, Scotty adopted cover crops, primarily cereal rye in 2016. Cover crops are sown when a primary cash crop is not present, as an alternative to fallow, or bare soil. Cover crops have been shown to slow soil erosion, improve soil health, enhance the availability of water, smother weeds, and help control pests. They also increase the total amount of photosynthesis that takes carbon from the atmosphere, which can increase the amount of carbon added to the soil every year. While planting cover crops has led to only a slight reduction in Scotty’s herbicide use, he has observed that they leave a mulch layer an inch thick on top of his soil, which he believes has increased soil moisture retention – making his land more resilient to drought. “A couple of years ago I noticed things started to come on stronger,” Scotty says. “I won’t say we were penalized those first 2 years, but it was after that 2-year period the yields were coming on strong. Weather patterns were the same, water intake was good, so after just a little period of questions and small doubts, that 3-year window everyone talked about opened up and crops have been improving ever since.”

In 2016, Scotty also modified his nutrient management practices. He now ensures that the amount of nitrogen applied to agricultural fields by synthetic fertilizers does not exceed the amount the plants can absorb and minimizes unwanted losses by switching from dry to a split application of a liquid fertilizer blend. This reduces excess nitrogen from being released to the atmosphere in the form of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It also prevents nutrient pollution in rivers and lakes, which can reduce the quality of drinking water and cause algal blooms and dead zones. While his nutrient costs increased, the modeled estimates for losses of nitrogen and phosphorus on his land dropped substantially as a result of the no-till, cover crops, and nutrient management practices Scotty employed. 

Soil Health Management Benefits Farmers, Climate, and the Environment

To better understand the financial impact implementation of these practices had on Scotty’s operation, American Farmland Trust and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission worked together to conduct partial budget analysis to analyze the marginal benefits and costs of adopting cover crops, strip-till corn, no-till soybeans, and nutrient management changes on the 350 acres of Scotty Herriman’s 2,000-acre farm where all of the practices were adopted. The analysis used a combination of published machinery and material cost estimates and farmer-provided data to estimate the cost of operations, on average, before and after soil health practice adoption. The analysis was limited to only those income and cost variables affected by the adoption of these practices. 

The results of the study highlighted the win-win nature of these solutions – they can be good for farmers, and are certainly beneficial for our climate and the environment as a whole. The analysis found that Scotty’s net income increased by $4 per acre per year after he adopted the soil health practices described earlier, for a net increase of $1,402 a year – a 7% return on investment. Scotty attributes 25% of his corn and soybean yield increases since 2010 to his adoption of soil health practices, thus accounting for a benefit of $28 per acre each year. Scotty’s average annual soybean yield has increased overall by 5 bushels an acre, and his corn yield has increased by 40 bushels an acre. Scotty says he also knows he’ll realize tangible assets of no-till during his farming career. In 2014 he saw 260-bushel dryland corn and he’s hit several years of 200+ bushel corn since switching to no-till. He entered a yield contest and won it four times in 6 years with his dryland no-till corn. This is what he shares with critics, that he implemented no-till and it works.

While Scotty’s herbicide costs have increased by $7 per acre per year, his machinery costs have decreased by $32 per acre per year since his adoption of no-till and strip-till thanks to fewer mechanical issues, less overall machinery maintenance costs, less fuel needed, and increased time savings. 

As a result of the combined soil health practices, erosion has decreased by 1 ton per acre per year, as estimated by USDA’s Nutrient Tracking Tool (NTT), worth $713 per year across the study area based on the $1.18/ton value of soil nutrients no longer running off, and Scotty’s estimated $300 a year in reduced mechanical erosion repair costs. In addition to the economic benefits Scotty has experienced, he has noticed benefits to his soil structure and biota. Scotty has observed less soil compaction, an increase in earthworm activity, and higher levels of soil organic matter. 

To estimate the water quality and climate benefits of these soil health practices, researchers used NTT and COMET-Farm tools on a 60-acre, representative field. Scotty’s use of cover crops, strip-till, no-till, and nutrient management reduced nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment losses by 73%, 22%, and 86%, respectively, as estimated by NTT. Further, his combined soil health practices resulted in a 54% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions as estimated by the COMET-Farm Tool, corresponding to taking 3.9 cars off the road.  While this may seem like a small number, there is enormous potential for scaling these benefits – especially considering the 396 million acres of cropland in the U.S.

USDA Cropland (USDA & Esri 2022). Feature layer by SEGS_GPO, licensed under the US EPA Data Licensing Agreement for public use.

Support is Available to Help Farmers Like Scotty Herriman Adopt Soil Health Management Practices

A number of federal and state programs are available to help farmers like Scotty Herriman adopt soil health practices – many of which are supported by the federal Farm Bill. To aid his transition to no-till, Scotty received support through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides financial and technical assistance to farmers to help them integrate conservation farming practices into their lands. When Scotty planted cover crops on his land, he partnered with Oklahoma State University, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants Program (CIG), which worked with him to study the influence cover crops had on soybean and corn productivity. Scotty also receives $5 per acre/year from the USDA Risk Management Agency Cover Crop Program to support continued implementation of cover crops. The financial assistance Scotty received from these programs was not factored into the cost-benefit analysis conducted by American Farmland Trust, indicating the benefits of soil health practices outweigh the costs even without federal assistance. 

Farm Bill agriculture programs, coupled with new efforts like the Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities, can play a key role in scaling up adoption of these practices nationwide – not only by providing financial and technical assistance to farmers, but also supporting the research, data collection, reporting and verification necessary to continue improving our understanding of the benefits of soil health management.

Closing Thoughts

Herriman Farms has benefited from soil health practices, but Scotty recognizes the challenges that come with getting started. “It’s a learning curve. Learning how to work in harmony with the weather, resisting the urge to break out the plow when things didn’t go exactly how I envisioned, and timing the planting windows to get the most benefit of moisture while staying ahead of weeds,” he said to emphasize the effort required to forge the right soil health management system. Scotty believes in the importance of sharing his story to help others make informed decisions about conservation practices. He celebrates his healthy soil and looks forward to the lasting benefits of his hard work.

Additional Resources


All values are in 2020 dollars.

• Prices used: Corn: $4.30/bu, Soybeans: $11.15/bu (USDA NASS, Feb 2021, Crop Values: 2020 Summary); Nitrogen: $0.34/lb, Phosphate: $0.39/lb (ISU Extension and Outreach, Jan 2021, Ag Decision Maker: Estimated Costs of Crop Production in Iowa).

• Value of decreased erosion ($1.18/ton) is based on estimated N & P content of the soil (2.32 lbs N/ton, 1 lb P/ton) and fertilizer prices (USDA NRCS, May 2010, Final Benefit-Cost Analysis for the EQIP) and Scotty’s estimate of reduced mechanical erosion repair costs.

• Return on Investment is the ratio of Annual Total Change in Net Income to Annual Total Decreased Net Income, as a percent. 

For information about:

(1) study methodology, see
(2) USDA’s NTT, see; and 
(3) USDA’s COMET-Farm Tool, see

This material is based on work supported by a USDA NRCS CIG grant (NR183A750008G008) and a grant from the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. Scotty received $5/ac/yr through the USDA Risk Management Agency Cover Crop Program (2016–present). This is not included in the analysis because cost-share is temporary and not received by all.

Building a Robust Reforestation Pipeline: Key Takeaways and Recommendations from Interviews with Nursery Managers in the Northeastern United States 

Trees can improve water quality, bolster soil health, create wildlife habitat, strengthen local economics, and sequester carbon. There are a myriad of strategies by which trees can be integrated into diverse landscapes as a natural climate solution, including agroforestry (e.g. riparian buffers, windbreaks, silvopasture, alley cropping, food forests), reforesting and/or restocking forests, and urban tree planting. In the United States, reforesting and restocking forests, in particular, hold considerable climate mitigation and economic development potential: reforesting and restocking 185.4 million acres of non-federal lands could remove 156 MtCO2e per year by 2030 and support nearly seventy thousand jobs annually (Leslie-Bole 2021). 

Projects that support tree planting by national and corporate actors have had variable success globally, as planting and caring for trees long-term can be an involved and complex social and ecological process that requires critical analysis and thoughtful engagement with numerous stakeholders (Pearce 2022). The need for multifaceted collaboration with diverse stakeholders is particularly true in the U.S. where land suitable for growing trees is often situated within a patchwork of privately and publicly owned land. One pervasive challenge that undermines the potential for ecologically resilient tree planting projects in the U.S. is the nation’s weakened reforestation pipeline–the actors, processes, and materials involved in tree planting, including seeds, nurseries, and planting and post-planting actions.

The main challenges undermining the reforestation pipeline in the U.S. include: 

1. Infrastructure (nurseries and seed storage and processing facilities) 

In recent decades, the number of nurseries in the U.S., including state and federal nurseries, and seed storage and processing facilities has declined

2. Demand for trees exceeds supply

The production of trees of various age classes is lagging in the U.S. This imbalance will likely be exacerbated by the demand for trees from growing interest in restoring and reforesting ecosystems across the country. 

3. Workforce 

Job opportunities in the nursery industry can be physically taxing and are often seasonal, which poses significant challenges for job retention. Furthermore, roles are highly specialized, requiring extensive knowledge of reproductive cycles, growth requirements, phenology, and the plasticity of local flora, as well as the unique skills to collect, germinate, and grow trees. Frequent employee turnover can limit the scale and diversity of nurseries’ production.

Fortunately, recent, historic, investments in tree planting/reforestation in the U.S. have the potential to address these barriers and galvanize a robust reforestation pipeline: the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) allocates $450 million for climate-smart forestry and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) removes the cap on the Reforestation Trust Fund. These investments could support healthy and resilient forests, as well as enhance community well-being, including by creating jobs, improving water quality, building resilience to climate change, and more. It is vital that these recent–as well as any future–investments in the reforestation pipeline acknowledge that each region in the U.S. is experiencing a unique permutation of the above challenges. Place-based research, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, is vital to understanding the unique context and needs of regions across the U.S. to develop and implement sustainable and equitable tree planting/reforestation efforts. 

To elucidate opportunities to bolster the reforestation pipeline and meet the growing demand for trees by tree planting/reforestation projects, we conducted semi-structured interviews with seven nursery managers in the Northeastern U.S. These interviews yielded key insights on the state of the reforestation pipeline in the region and nursery managers shared their unique perspectives on opportunities to improve this vital supply chain. 

The Northeast differs from other regions of the country as both forests and land suitable for NCS (e.g., floodplains, marginal croplands, pasture, abandoned lots) is dominated by private land ownership. Furthermore, natural regeneration is often the most economically viable and ecologically suitable model for reforestation in the region. In fact, the Northeast has a rich history of land use change where much of currently forested areas were once cleared and have since undergone regeneration and succession (Foster, 1992). Still, trees in and outside of forests in the Northeast are facing many challenges. For example, the implications of climate change are amplifying forest health risks (species range shifts, pests, pathogens, drought, temperature shifts) and the persistence of market pressures incentivizing forest conversion (e.g., housing development and renewable energy installations) are commonplace. As such, reforesting and restoring forests in the Northeast amidst these challenges will likely require more input and active management than the forests that returned to the region in the early twentieth century. 

Despite the challenges facing the reforestation pipeline, there is growing interest in planting trees for climate resilience, carbon sequestration, improving air quality, diversifying markets, and more. Among other strategies, current projects are focused on urban tree planting, riparian restoration, and agroforestry. According to recent models, large-scale reforestation has the greatest climate mitigation potential (35 percent) in the Northeastern U.S. (Fargione et al., 2018). Given that recent studies have illustrated that many landowners in tropical and subtropical forests are more interested in the utility trees offer rather than their climate mitigation potential, there may be a greater demand in the Northeast for trees that can enrich landscapes by offering multiple functions (e.g., trees for food, timber, and aesthetics) (Martin et al., 2022). As such, efforts to accelerate the pace and scale of tree planting/reforestation in the region will need to be advanced in close collaboration with landholders and will require a rich understanding of the challenges facing the region’s forests. 

The goal of the semi-structured interviews we conducted with nursery managers in the Northeastern U.S. was to better understand the breadth of nursery operations, nursery managers’ interests in expanding production to meet anticipated higher production, and growers’ recommendations for pivotal investment opportunities to bolster production while also providing ecological, economic, and social benefits. The individuals we spoke with manage operations that vary in size, age, location, infrastructure, objective(s), and end user(s). Interviewees included the managers of private nurseries, a state-run nursery, and a non-profit conservation nursery. The production of each nursery ranges from small shrubs, containers, and bare root. Furthermore, the size of each operation ranges from one acre and three full-time employees to 150 acres and 75 full-time employees. Lastly, the nursery managers we spoke with sell to diverse end users, including farmers interested in establishing agroforestry systems, homeowners, landscaping operations, and large-scale research, conservation, and restoration projects. 

Key takeaways from interviews with nursery managers in the Northeastern U.S.: 

1. Although nursery managers report a notable increase in demand for their products in recent years, many private nurseries noted that this increased demand has not come from tree planting initiatives. Furthermore, nursery managers were not convinced that large-scale projects would source from local nurseries, most of which are smaller and cannot offer competitive prices as compared to larger operations based in the Southeastern and Western U.S. The skepticism of private nurseries stood in contrast with nurseries with an explicit conservation or agroforestry oriented mission, who had started their production and/or were scaling up in anticipation of increased demand for trees.

2. Most nursery managers we spoke with were more interested in increasing on-site efficiencies (e.g., maximizing the number of trees produced with the least amount of external inputs) than expanding operations due to a limited land base, workforce constraints, and personal capacity. Some nursery managers were interested in expanding production through partnerships with smaller nurseries or with new growers of woody plants.

3. Nursery managers emphasized the importance of genetics, producing locally adapted trees that can survive and thrive in changing climatic conditions, and growing productive species. This sentiment is often echoed by those with experience implementing and monitoring tree planting projects.

As evidenced by these three key takeaways, developing a resilient reforestation pipeline in the U.S. can be achieved by supporting and learning from locally-focused operations and building trusted, long-term relationships with growers in distinct regions. As more detailed funding allocations for tree planting/reforestation and forest resilience are made through IRA and IIJA, as well as in the 2023 Farm Bill, the perspectives of nursery managers and other stakeholders must be considered to grow and fortify the reforestation pipeline that can meet the unique needs of regions across the country. 

Initiatives that seek to improve and increase the volume of seed stock for restoration should prioritize support for existing operations. Many private nurseries have persisted and adapted to changing markets amidst the closure of state-run nurseries. These nurseries already possess the infrastructure and skills necessary to adapt to new markets driven by tree planting/reforestation initiatives. However, uncertainty regarding local actors’ commitment to NCS and the consistency of new markets in the coming years pose significant risks for operations that are considering scaling-up production. To better coordinate production to meet anticipated increases in demand, nursery managers will require information from their end users on the species, varieties, and quantity of trees needed, as well as the projects’ timeline. Additionally, many nurseries will need to modify their existing structure to diversify offerings, such as producing younger, bare-root, trees, which are typically bought for restoration projects (versus the larger container or ball and burlap tree that nurseries typically sell at a high price point to homeowners or landscapers). Nursery managers should be involved early, as well as throughout, tree planting/reforestation initiatives’ planning processes. This sustained engagement will not only enable nursery managers to better coordinate their production with projects’ demands, but also offer opportunities for growers to provide invaluable insights on projects’ scope and implementation. Nursery managers already often provide planning guides and offer consultations, drawing on years of regionally relevant experience. This expertise will be invaluable to the long-term success of tree planting/reforestation projects. 

One strategy that could support existing operations is the establishment of local prioritization into NCS criteria. This approach would require tree planting/reforestation initiatives to source trees locally, which may help authenticate the promise of new markets for nursery managers, thus catalyzing greater investment in local supply chains. In the absence of such mechanisms, large-scale tree planting/reforestation initiatives may source stock from large growers based in the Southeastern or Western U.S. that are able to offer lower prices due to an extended growing season and the availability of relatively inexpensive land. Similar strategies that prioritize the hiring of local labor and sub-contractors for stewardship contracts on federal lands have been employed (e.g., Consistent Program of Stewardship work in El Dorado National Forest) to maximize local economic co-benefits. In addition, intentionally selecting locally adapted species for tree planting/reforestation projects can help bolster the capacity of populations to adapt to anticipated phenological changes and consequent range shifts predicted in climate change, and thus enhance the long-term success of tree planting/reforestation projects.

Strategies that prioritize local investment in concert with increased demand will continue to attract new and motivated growers to the industry. Several nursery managers we spoke with expressed interest in aggregating trees from other growers when they reached production limits to meet consistent inquiries for nursery stock. Therefore, in addition to supporting existing operations, clear pathways for new and interested growers to access quality land, infrastructure, markets, and technical support will increase the resilience of a regionally-specific reforestation pipeline. Strengthening the capacity of the reforestation pipeline should thus involve the creation of opportunities for diverse producers that can absorb demand from multiple entities and efforts to increase NCS. New programs, including components of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), that facilitate access to land and markets for underserved producers, will be particularly pivotal to ensure  that newer and historically underserved growers can participate in the growing market for trees. Such investments must also include access to resources that can help producers strengthen their operations, including in-person workshops, site visits from extension agents or other professionals, and online resources. New and existing growers could collaborate through job trainings, cooperative (co-op) marketing models that aggregate available nursery stock on centralized platforms, and/or by sharing storage facilities (e.g., cold rooms) that can hold trees until they are needed. 

Realizing the climate mitigation potential of tree planting/reforestation projects will depend, in part, on the strength of the reforestation pipeline. Although our findings are not conclusive about the attitudes of all nursery managers and growers across the Northeastern U.S., they do showcase the indispensable role of nurseries to the successful implementation of NCS. To fortify the reforestation pipeline, the federal government, alongside key partners such as universities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), must integrate the perspectives and recommendations of key stakeholders, including nursery managers. Ensuring that future policy decisions are informed by landowner and practitioner perspectives will be especially important in national and international policy discussions, including the 2023 Farm Bill. In the absence of place-based research and the inclusion of local communities’ expertise, the potential contribution of NCS to societal well-being and climate goals will not be realized. 

Many experts in the nursery industry that we spoke with have long been interested in addressing the  pervasive challenges facing the reforestation pipeline, including increasing genetic stock, tracking and communicating technical knowledge, and expanding production through collaborating with other growers to meet the demand for trees. The many skilled individuals working at nurseries and across the reforestation pipeline know what it takes for the industry to grow and the diverse actors (e.g., national and state governments, NGOs, and corporations) seeking to galvanize a more robust reforestation pipeline and accelerate the pace and scale of NCS implementation should take note. 

To learn more about the challenges in the reforestation pipeline, read Reforesting Minnesota: Building Capacity in a Changing Climate, Seeing the Forest for the Seedlings: Challenges and Opportunities in the Effort to Reforest America, and Gisel Garza: Seed Hunter.

MANO Project: Building A Diverse Workforce to Tackle Climate Change

“Eventually, climate change will affect all of us, because climate change doesn’t discriminate. We need to prepare ecosystems. A call to action that is not only driven by our personal gain, but more so for providing a sustainable future for generations to come.

Gabriel Van Praag, Civilian Climate Corp Fellow, MANO Project

The Latino community lives at the heart of the climate crisis– Latinos are twice as likely to be affected by wildfires, three times more likely to die from heat exhaustion on the job, more likely to live in hotter neighborhoods, more likely to live in areas exposed to flood risks, less likely to have their neighborhoods protected from sea level rise, and more likely to suffer health problems after a flood. Moreover, Latinos and other communities of color also face the nature gap– a disproportionate lack of access to parks, waterfronts, and other green and blue spaces. In addition to supporting public health, these spaces provide economic, educational, and climate resilience benefits to the surrounding communities. With 75% of Latinos saying that climate change is either a crisis or a very serious problem, more are willing to take action within their communities.

Impassioned for change, in 2010 Maite Arce created the 501(c)(3) non-profit Hispanic Access Foundation. With a clear vision, her motive was to unite her community and their environmental interests in hopes of creating a more equitable society. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census estimates that the Hispanic population will nearly double by 2050 to more than 100 million Latinos. With the knowledge of changing demographics, there is a growing need to engage the passion that young Hispanics have for environmental advocacy and conservation. As a result, Hispanic Access launched the My Access to Network Opportunities (MANO) Project. The MANO Project strives to connect and build young leaders of color to protect public lands and create equitable and just climate change strategies. 

The MANO Project’s model builds leadership capacity among communities of color and the nation as a whole. We do so by building trusting relationships with organizations and federal agencies to provide professional development and training opportunities for college students and graduates. Our current partnerships include: the Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. A special feature of the MANO Project is that all internships are paid, allowing low-income individuals the opportunity to enjoy a leg up in their careers they otherwise could not afford. In the words of Fernando Lara, a first-generation college student who worked his way through school, “Before learning about the MANO Project, I saw similar internships. However, they were unpaid, and I couldn’t participate because I wouldn’t have had time to do the internship, work, and still go to school. Thankfully, MANO’s paid internship paved the way for me to get into a field I’m passionate about without the burden of wondering if I was going to be able to pay the rent.” 

In addition to advocating for positions with liveable wages, the MANO Project administers a comprehensive framework to support workforce functions where current federal workforces fall short. This includes promoting a pathway of access for minority students and recent graduates to participate in an equitable recruitment and selection process. Once program hours have been completed, many interns qualify for certificates that offer a Direct Hiring Authority (DHA) status. This status opens up access to full-time employment within the federal government, helping America reach climate goals with a stronger, more diverse workforce. To date, more than 450 alumni have participated in our various internship programs. Most recently, the MANO Project has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife in 2021 to debut the Civilian Climate Corps Fellowship Program (CCC), the first of its kind in providing young professionals an opportunity to be on the leading edge of the climate change fight by aiding the National Wildlife Refuge System’s (NWRS) response to climate mitigation and adaptation. These strategies will yield high impacts, such as ensuring that carbon already sequestered in our National Wildlife Refuges remains locked in trees and other vegetation, while providing an opportunity to explore restoration activities that help draw additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Historically, the decision-making process in the field of conservation has left minorities and vulnerable communities out of the conversation. Despite growing diversity in the United States, the racial composition of environmental institutions has remained between 12% to 16%.  Currently, the demographic makeup of most U.S. environmental organizations does not reflect that of the country as a whole. The MANO Project aims to change that by increasing the representation of historically underrepresented groups within conservation careers by creating a pipeline for them to get hired by environmental agencies and organizations. We are effectively enabling opportunities for substantial professional development within diverse cultural resource projects for students of color who not only overwhelmingly support the preservation of our parks and public lands, but also are capable of engaging their communities. This allows for new ideas and perspectives to become key aspects of an equitable fight against climate change. 

“When we think about conservation and the environment, what first comes to mind are images of sweeping plains and mountains, untouched by people,” says Nina Marti, Program Manager for the MANO Project. “What’s missing from that narrative, and how we respond to climate and environmental crises, are the ways in which people of color have established relationships with nature; how generations of Indigenous peoples have cared for this land, how enslaved and exploited peoples have cultivated this land, and how we integrate green space into urban areas. These narratives offer insights on how we can shape our relationship with nature and the climate for the better, but we can’t learn from them or integrate them until the keepers of those stories and practices are afforded equitable opportunities in their fields.”

As climate change continues to affect the day to day lives of our communities, federal land agencies, with the help of the current administration, have committed to confront the crisis through climate readiness integration in their mission and programs. While each agency has its own speciality and focus, each has a crucial part to play in combating climate changes. 

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s 2021 launch of the 18-month fellowship program for the newly reintroduced Civilian Climate Corp (CCC) program is an exciting example of how government agencies can support climate adaptation efforts. As part of President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, the CCC program hired young Americans to work on combating the climate crisis within the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS). Such roles are crucial, as one study estimated, 17 gigatons of carbon are currently stored on America’s NWRS. By developing and refining a climate adaptation framework, which utilizes existing plans, data on climate change and other stressors, ecological transformation, and a structured decision-making process, their work informs how Refuges will address climate change. Implementing this framework is a win-win opportunity. It protects existing carbon stores, while also allowing refuge managers to implement strategies, like native vegetation plantings, that help draw additional carbon from the air.

“The NWRS is on the front-lines of climate change,” said Cynthia Martinez, Chief of the NWRS. The CCC enlists the next generation to utilize new ideas and perspectives, ensuring a sustainable future for all. The MANO Project is committed to ensuring these, and future roles remain open to communities of color. “Engaging young people in diverse communities to be at the front and center of addressing the climate crisis is one of the MANO Project’s core goals,” said Michelle Neuenschwander, Director of the MANO Project. “Our work is about the next generation of Latino leaders. This unique experience provides extensive training, mentoring and professional development to ensure students have the tools and knowledge needed to excel in their fellowship.”

“The CCC is unique in its programming, but could be used as an example for other agencies,” says Crystal Strong, Program Associate for the MANO Project. “As needs for climate adaptation continue to take center stage, so do needs for jobs that tackle the larger issues at hand. As programs and positions are created, The MANO Project will continue to advocate for future opportunities to be accessible to diverse students and graduates. These internships and fellowships are monumental to opening pathways for full time employment within these agencies.” In the words of Gabriel Van Praag, a current CCC fellow, “The MANO Project gave me the opportunity to be on the leading edge of the fight for climate change adaptation. I hope to keep working in this field for the rest of my life. I really hope that I can reduce climate change, but also make the process equitable and just.”

In addition to the CCC, the US Forest Service (USFS) and Hispanic Access Foundation have partnered to support the next generation of conservation and environmental stewards through the Resource Assistant Program (RAP). This partnership aims to build a strong community of inspired, skilled, motivated leaders through substantial work experience and building skills required for success in natural resource careers. RAP fellows are placed at USFS national forests and offices throughout the U.S. and support the mission to care for the land and serve the people. Interns are introduced to various tasks and projects such as: lands management, conservation education, resource interpretation, and rehabilitation activities through their assignments on public lands across the country. RAP projects bring fellows in direct contact with climate impact work through assignments in fire management, forest restoration, wildfire prevention and  air quality management. An inspiring example of one of our interns doing so is Valery Serrano. A first-generation Latina, Valery Serrano, is a current MANO Intern with RAP stationed at the San Juan National Forest in Colorado. Through this program, Valery is pursuing the career of her dreams by working with wildlife and assisting wilderness and fire crews in educating the public on fire safety in the National Forest.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the chief human resources agency for the federal government, has made workforce data for the federal civilian workforce available through a tool called Fedscope. The most  recent diversity data trends for June 2022 demonstrate ample room for growth for minority groups in Science and Engineering occupations within the federal government. In Science occupations (Natural Resource Management, Biological Sciences, Environment Protection, Soil Conservation), 26% of current employees identify as a minority, and in Engineering occupations (Environmental, Civil, Electrical, Nuclear) 28% of current employees identify as a minority. Since its creation in 2015, the MANO Project has grown from offering one program encompassing a handful of internships to about 200 interns across 17 different national programs. At this stage of growth, we would like to expand into private and NGO sectors to diversify our opportunities, broaden access to environmental careers, and influence the field beyond the government sector. The MANO Project will continue to support programs like CCC and RAP that specifically work to target climate mitigation and adaptation. We will continue to encourage climate mitigation organizations to allocate resources to diversifying their own workforces so as to create meaningful dialogue around and solutions to climate crises.

Learn more about Hispanic Access Foundation, the MANO Project, and its fellowship programs at and Don’t see an internship fit? Get notified when we add new opportunities throughout the year when you sign up for alerts. For inquiries regarding partnerships, please email, or fill out our inquiry form.

Article contributors:

MANO Project Program, Hispanic Access Foundation

Conservation Program, Hispanic Access Foundation

Communication Program, Hispanic Access Foundation

Gabriel Van Pragg, Civilian Climate Corp Fellow, MANO Project

Four Steps to Reforest the West for Climate Resilience

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see: we’re in for another explosive wildfire season across the western U.S. Climate change has been baking our forests tinder dry for years, and with temperatures climbing and summer on our doorstep, we’re practically guaranteed another year of devastation. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost.

This year, as in recent years, we’re sure to see millions more acres burned compared to fire seasons just a few decades ago. And much of that land will be so scorched that trees won’t regrow if we don’t plant them. One response to this crisis must be to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change and killing our forests. But the future of our western forests will also hinge on this: How quickly we can regrow millions of burned over acres with climate-resilient forests able to thrive in a hotter and drier world?

Climate-adapted reforestation will do more than just save forests — it will also help save lives and property, too. That’s because planting climate-resilient forests is a crucial opportunity to get ahead of escalating wildfire threats in our western communities. The need for scaling up forestry actions to increase wildfire resilience, like radically thinning vulnerable forests, could be reduced if we are able to reforest millions of acres of burned areas with the right forest structure and composition to be more wildfire resilient from the start.

To understand the urgency and scale of needed action, we need to appreciate how dramatically climate change is impacting forest health. Climatic shifts have ramped up forest stressors such as drought, pests, disease and catastrophic wildfire. Dried out, sickly forests are just a tinder box waiting for a spark, like parts of the Front Range in Colorado and Sierra Nevada in California that have seen unprecedented forest mortality over the last two decades.

Bark beetles devastated the forest lining the shore of Grand Lake in Colorado. Photo Credit: Don Graham/Flickr

At this moment when our forests are increasingly vulnerable, our expanding human footprint means we are accidentally igniting more fires, creating a verifiable powder keg. This is happening at the same time that climate-fueled increased frequency in dry weather lightning are also more readily sparking fires.

As a result, the extent of western wildfire has doubled in the last few decades, including more expansive and intense “mega-fires”. To give a sense of scale, U.S. wildfire seasons now routinely burn more than 10 million acres per year. In California, roughly one out of every eight acres of forest has burned in the last decade.

It is not just more acres burning, but also how they are burning. Soils can be so scorched from these fires they are made hydrophobic, which means they repel water, and must be remediated to support healthy, native forests again. When mega-fires burn whole landscapes, this can push any seed source from live trees too far away to help support natural regeneration.

By way of example, roughly half of the newly burned areas each year on America’s national forests now require planting in order to recover, a percentage that continues to rise because of the growing extent and severity of today’s wildfires. As a result, the U.S. Forest Service is at least 4 million acres behind on reforesting national forests that need it — roughly 1.2 billion trees. By some estimates, this reforestation backlog on our national forests could be more than 7 million acres, which is an area the size of Maryland.

Wildfire is also happening in places that have historically not burned as often — like our highest mountains. In 2021, wildfire burned clear across the Sierra Nevada mountain range for the first time in recorded history. And then it happened again in the same month. The same phenomenon has occurred in Colorado, where in 2020, wildfires burned across the Continental Divide for the first time. In both cases, this expansion of wildfire impact was made possible by the dramatic drying of high elevation forests that used to be naturally fire-resilient. We must be ready to reforest in forest types and landscape areas that have historically not needed it.

Even our tallest trees are feeling the heat. Experts have long thought that large and old trees of species like the Giant Sequoia were impervious to wildfire due to their thick bark, long distance from ground to branches, and other natural defenses. But climate-fueled wildfires are now putting even these forests at risk, like the Castle Fire in California that killed as many 10,000 Giant Sequoia with trunks of 4-foot diameter or more. That represents a shocking 10 to 15 percent of these trees found worldwide. And while sequoias need fire to reproduce, these fires are reaching such magnitude that the seed bed is wiped out.

With natural processes so profoundly broken by climate change, we need to take a more active role in promoting recovery and fostering climate-resilient forests. For many landscapes across the West, replanting burned areas could save millions of forested acres from potential transition into shrubs and other non-forest cover. To be clear, this does not mean that we must resist these climate-driven shifts in every instance. As I have written before, “pre-storing” forests for climate change will require strategically choosing where to fight back with climate-resilient reforestation, and where we need to allow transition to a different kind of land cover.

Strong science shows millions of burned acres across the West that we can still potentially keep as forest if we make the right moves with rapid reforestation. Losing millions of forested acres unnecessarily would cost America dearly in forgone carbon sequestration, water supply filtration and protection, wood supplies, forest recreation and critical habitat. Of equal concern, un-remediated burned areas are a real hazard to people, triggering mudslides like the ones last year that took out Interstate 70 through Colorado and poured through Flagstaff, Arizona.

So how do we make this happen? There are four interconnected actions we must take to rapidly reforest burned areas with a climate-resilient approach.

  • Site Assessment and Planning: The first step is to assess each burned area for its own unique context. We can use science to determine which burned areas are positioned to naturally regenerate, sometimes with a little help, and which ones need tree planting. This prioritization must also overlay other considerations: climate threats; which burned areas are most important for water supply protection or are most at risk of mudslides; and which areas have the greatest value for carbon sequestration, habitat, recreation and wood supplies. Additionally, having post-disturbance plans in place will help speed up reforestation response times. Rapid reforestation is important in order to contain competition from shrubs and invasive species.
  • Align Tree Species and Genetics: For areas that we determine need to be planted, we can use cutting-edge scientific tools and traditional ecological knowledge to assess which tree species and genetic strains are best matched to current and future climate conditions. Then we must work with local seed collectors and tree nurseries to collect the right seeds and grow the right seedlings to match this climate-resilient planting approach, and to ramp up seed and seedling supplies dramatically — doubling or more in most locations. We can set these seedlings up for success by using new growing techniques in nurseries that will better prepare seedlings for harsh conditions in the field like drought.
  • Climate-Smart Planting: It is not just about selecting the right trees themselves, but also how we plant them. Climate-smart planting must include the right site preparation to address wildfire damage to soils and other site repairs, such as stabilization. We must also match the number and distribution of trees planted on the landscape to our new climate realities, including water availability and fire frequency. This climate-resilient forest structure might look very different from the forest that just burned, such as having fewer trees per acre in chronically drought-stressed landscapes.
  • Adaptive Management and Research: No matter how well we craft reforestation for climate resilience, we must be ready to learn as we go. We can do this through intensive research and evaluation of replanted areas and management-scale experimentation. But climate change is playing out quickly. We need to be ready to manage reforested areas to adjust their composition and structure based on these observed results, and to use tools like prescribed fire to keep these growing forests maximally aligned for wildfire resilience. For public lands, this means providing the policy guidance, staffing and funding to adaptively manage these reforested lands for climate-resilience.

There’s no dodging it — this will be a huge challenge. We must stand up this new climate-resilient approach to reforestation while simultaneously working at a totally different pace and scale, something akin to the original Civilian Conservation Corps, which planted 3 billion trees over a decade. (No wonder they were known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army”!) Our climate and communities, both human and natural, need us to step up to this scale of mobilization today.

The good news is that an unprecedented movement is taking shape to advance climate-resilient reforestation, and we can push it over the top with the right actions and investment right now.

The U.S. Forest Service has painted the target by including climate-resilient reforestation of burn scars as a central pillar in its new 10-Year Wildfire Strategy. The agency recognizes that we can significantly reduce the risk of future wildfires if we use the right approach to how we reforest after the last one. The agency and its partners will need to hold each other accountable to make sure that reforestation does not fall by the wayside as efforts intensify on other aspects of the wildfire strategy, such as hazardous fuels reduction.

We can step up together on the science, too. My organization, American Forests, has seen what is possible through the new Camp Fire Reforestation Plan we co-created with federal and state agencies and financial sponsorship from Salesforce. This plan maps out a climate-resilient approach to reforest one of California’s largest burned areas. Now we are partnering with the State of California to apply this climate-informed planning approach to burned areas statewide. As one way to assure we get the right science in the right hands, the USDA Climate Hubs should step forward boldly to help catalyze this kind of scientific assessment for every state’s burned areas. The Climate Hubs are well-poised to get climate-resilient reforestation guidance out to public and private sector reforestation leaders alike.

The good news is that an unprecedented movement is taking shape to advance climate-resilient reforestation, and we can push it over the top with the right actions and investment right now.

Reforestation at the scale needed will take billions of dollars, and Congress has provided the largest funding allocation in history for post-fire reforestation through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This includes the REPLANT Act provision, which will permanently increase U.S. Forest Service funding at least four-fold for replanting on America’s 193 million acres of national forest. It also includes additional funding for reforesting burned areas on Department of Interior lands, expanding seed collection and nursery capacity, and more. But alone, this funding won’t be enough. We need any climate package that might emerge from current discussions between the Biden Administration and Congress to include additional funding for post-fire reforestation, including funding to help states, tribes, local governments and private landowners to do their part alongside federal agencies.

Here’s more great news — the federal government is not in this alone on science, funding or implementation of this reforestation push. An unprecedented coalition of state and local governments, tribal leaders, companies, NGOs and civil society groups organized as the U.S. Chapter of has stepped up to match federal efforts. More than 90 partners in the U.S. Chapter have already pledged to plant billions of trees and provide billions of dollars in supporting actions such as nursery capacity, workforce development and carbon finance.

The payoff from reforesting our burned areas will be huge for our economy as well as our environment. Reforestation, from seed collection all the way to conducting and monitoring plantings, has been shown to support as many as 27 direct, indirect and induced jobs per million dollars invested. To achieve our goals, we will need many more employees and businesses working at every point on the reforestation pipeline, now and into the future, employing a wide range of skills. This is an economic development opportunity with huge potential impact in rural communities.

Yes, turning millions of burned acres into climate-resilient forests will be a generational challenge that requires unprecedented investment from the public and private sector alike. With so much at stake, I’m betting America is ready. Taking action that will produce healthier, more resilient forests and local economies? That’s something we all can agree on.

This article was originally posted at

For more information about efforts to support climate-adapted reforestation, watch USN4C’s video, Building Capacity for Reforestation, and read our accompanying blog article, Reforesting Minnesota: Building Capacity in a Changing Climate.

Creating Resilient Forests in the Jemez Mountains

New Mexico’s Rio Grande and its tributaries supply water to more than half of New Mexico’s population. Photo Credit: Alan W. Eckert/The Nature Conservancy

Imagine your favorite forested area without big, beautiful pine trees cooling you from the sun or providing fresh air during your hike. That’s what New Mexicans across the Jemez Mountains faced when the region was scorched by the Las Conchas Fire in 2011. The flames burned so hot that thousands of acres were left without trees, or the seed sources for natural forest recovery. Heavy rains that followed the fire sent ash and sediment down the Rio Grande River, the pollution preventing downstream cities from withdrawing water for 40 days.

Water is life and livelihood. Nowhere is that a truer statement than in New Mexico. Each year, large and severe wildfires and post-fire flooding increasingly put our water sources at risk. State and federal agencies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year responding to these fires. Communities affected by severe wildfire face loss of revenue to local businesses, loss of outdoor cultural opportunities. Without action, New Mexico’s future water security and nature-based culture are at significant risk.

To address this challenge, The Nature Conservancy and a broad network of stakeholders formed the Rio Grande Water Fund (RGWF) to work cooperatively to reduce the risk of megafires, protect precious water supplies and build resilience against climate change threats.

This public-private coalition of 100 signatories – including non-profits, tribes, government agencies, and businesses – are working collaboratively to scale up restoration with a goal of improving the health of 600,000 acres of New Mexico’s forested watersheds to secure water for 1 million people. The RGWF is designed to generate sustainable funding for a 20-year program of large-scale forest restoration treatments which include projects to thin overgrown forests, restore wetlands and streams, engage youth, inform policy makers with our science and generate forestry and wood products jobs.

Surprisingly, thinning forests followed by controlled burns is an important climate solution. On the surface, it seems like a way to lose precious carbon. However, it’s important to understand that fire is a natural process and has always been a part of western forests. Forests need fire to recycle nutrients, reduce competition between trees, and prepare seedbeds for the next generation. Until the early 1900’s Indigenous Peoples used fire to protect their homes, water and cultural traditions. European settlers changed the forest, bringing livestock that ate the grass that carried ground fire and removed large fire resistant trees. In the early and mid-20th century, fire was considered the enemy of forests, and most fires were suppressed, leaving a backlog of dense small, flammable trees.

Now, hotter and drier temperatures, coupled with our overcrowded forests, encourage fire behavior that is much more intense, releasing huge amounts of carbon into the air all at once. By improving the health of our forests, we’re making them more resilient, stabilizing carbon and increasing carbon capture as healthy trees continue to grow. Healthy forests absorb more carbon dioxide, storing it in large trees, helping cool our planet.

Because the Las Conchas Fire left no seed sources across thousands of acres of scorched land, The Nature Conservancy expanded the Rio Grande Water Fund work to include an innovative reforestation effort supported by many partners.

Photo Credit: Collin Haffey/The Nature Conservancy

TNC is working with research scientists to find the most drought resistant “mother trees” for seeds, grow seedlings in a way that makes them more drought hardy , then plant “tree-islands” – small clusters of trees – in the burned areas of the Jemez Mountains. These tree islands will serve as the seed sources for the future.  Using new projections of climate change impacts, and our understanding of what trees need to grow, we identify places where trees have a stronger likelihood to survive in the future. Additionally, our local Indigenous partners from the local Pueblo communities add more value to the work by sharing which tree species locations are culturally important. They also lead the planting operation.

Reducing the risk of damaging wildfires – and planting in areas where natural tree regeneration is unlikely – are forest strategies that together help maintain and increase carbon storage on the landscape. Since 2014, RGWF partners have thinned and conducted controlled burns on nearly 150,000 acres to prevent catastrophic wildfires, while planting in tandem to capture carbon, protect water, and create wildlife habitat.

One reason for the RGWF’s success is its collaboration across boundaries and between organizations working at all scales.  The USDA Forest Service, the New Mexico Dept. of Game and Fish and the Water Utility Authority for Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are some of our larger Water Fund partners. At a more local scale, we work with the Cerro Negro Forest Council, a collaborative of people from traditional Hispanic villages near Taos, New Mexico. Members thin forest plots to reduce fire risk, and then can sell the wood they produce to provide income for their families. The project is managed by a local “Mayordomo”, a governance system modeled on the centuries-old irrigation management system used by these communities.

Through cooperative and coordinated burning we are able to burn more acres with prescribed fire due to safe staffing levels. Here the All Hands All Lands Burn Team organizes representatives from 12 different organizations. Photo Credit: Collin Haffey/The Nature Conservancy

Part of the challenge of large-scale work to mitigate climate impacts is having enough people available and trained to do the needed work. The Rio Grande Water Fund supports the “All Hands All Lands” (AHAL) controlled burning program that builds capacity of forestry workers to use fire well and uses a cooperative burning projects to put more good fire on the ground. Federal fire workers that we depend on to do the burning need to make forests resilient are often called on to fight fires outside New Mexico. Engaging more skilled people to put good fire on the ground is way to help everyone make progress. According to Dave Lasky, the Forest Stewards Guild leader who manages the AHAL Burn Team, “The goal of the AHAL is to get ahead of prescribed fire backlogs on federal, state and tribal lands and support private landowner’s use of prescribed fire.”

Healthy forests lead to healthy livelihoods. Vibrant, resilient forests protect our water, provide wildlife habitat, support the state’s outdoor recreation and forest products economy. Even more importantly – as climate change bears down – healthy forests can store more carbon dioxide to help cool our planet and improve our quality of life.

Portions of this article were adapted from The Rio Grande Water Fund’s 2020 Annual Report

For more information, read about the Rio Grande Water Fund at their website and at Nature.Org.

Anne Bradley is the Forest Program Director at The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico. 

How Climate Action Can Reboot Economies in Rural America

Photo Credit: Mark Alexander/iStock

Many rural counties in the United States face the dual challenges of lagging economic growth and increasingly severe effects of climate change. While urban areas are not uniformly prosperous and rural areas are not uniformly poor, rural communities on average lag behind their urban counterparts on most key economic indicators — from poverty rates to labor force participation. Rural areas represent 86% of persistent poverty counties in the U.S., while over 50% of rural Black residents live in economically distressed counties.

These challenges have been intensified by economic losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated existing inequalities and highlighted urgent infrastructure needs. At the same time, catastrophic wildfires, record heatwaves, drought and other severe weather events linked to climate change threaten rural communities and livelihoods.

Addressing both the climate crisis and lagging economic vitality will require federal investment in building a new climate economy for rural America — one that reduces greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero while creating jobs, uplifting economically disadvantaged communities, and enhancing ecosystem services. This opportunity is already being realized in targeted regions (clean energy is a growing economic engine for many rural communities) and federal policymakers now have the opportunity to dramatically expand on this progress.

New WRI analysis finds that an annual federal investment of nearly $15 billion in key areas of the rural new climate economy would create hundreds of thousands of jobs in rural communities, add billions of dollars of value to rural economies, and generate millions in new tax revenues. This investment would help combat the economic stagnation confronting many rural areas and ensure that the benefits of the transition to a net-zero economy are widely distributed.

Understanding Rural Economic Opportunity by Area and Geography

In this new paper, we analyzed the impact of $55 billion per year in federal investment in seven areas of the new climate economy over at least five years. These include investments in renewable energy; energy efficiency; transmission, distribution, and storage (TDS); environmental remediation of abandoned fossil fuel infrastructure; tree restoration on federal and non-federal lands; and wildfire risk management. An estimated $14.9 billion of that investment (27%) would be directed to rural America.

That investment would support nearly 260,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs for at least five years in rural counties (a total of 1.3 million job-years) and 740,000 jobs for five years in the country as a whole (a total of 3.7 million job-years). This equates to 17.5 jobs per $1 million invested in rural counties.

The results also indicate that new climate economy federal investment in rural areas would offer an attractive return on investment by adding $21.7 billion per year to rural economies for the first five years — $1.46 for every dollar invested. This includes $12.9 billion in employee compensation and $1.6 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues. The figure below shows the distribution of economic benefits across the seven investment areas.

Rural Economic Impacts by Investment Area (each year for first five years)

* Results in the table are for rural counties only. For the purposes of this analysis, we use Rural-Urban Continuum Codes developed by the USDA Economic Research Service to delineate rural areas. This geographic-economic classification scheme distinguishes between two broad types of regions: metropolitan counties (codes 1-3) and non-metropolitan counties (codes 4-9). This analysis considers all non-metropolitan counties to be rural. Source: The Economic Benefits of New Climate Economy in Rural America, 2021

Job creation benefits would be widely dispersed across the country’s rural areas and vary by sector depending on regional economic factors. The top five states seeing the most significant impacts in terms of job creation relative to the size of local rural economies would be California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nevada.

California, New Mexico and Nevada would benefit most substantially from wildfire risk management investment. Massachusetts and Nevada, by contrast, would benefit largely from investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and grid transmission and distribution.

The analysis shows the geographic distribution of rural job creation potential (measured as jobs created in a rural county per 1,000 private sector workers, aggregated at the state level) from federal investment in each of the seven areas analyzed. Different investment areas naturally impact regions differently depending on local economic factors and where opportunities are located.

For instance, Massachusetts, California, Nevada, Maryland and Illinois would see the most job creation benefits from federal investments in renewable energy, while rural counties in Pennsylvania, Kansas, West Virginia, Kentucky and Wyoming would benefit most from investments in environmental remediation of orphaned oil and gas wells and abandoned coal mines. The latter is particularly important given that these are the same regions that have seen significant job losses due to the phasing out of coal generation. Investment in these regions can therefore help ensure a more just economic transition.

Rural counties in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and New Mexico are expected to see the highest levels of job creation from investment in tree restoration on federal lands, while those in Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Michigan and Wisconsin would benefit most from investment in tree restoration, including agroforestry, on state, local and private lands.

Direct and Indirect Benefits of Rural Investment in the New Climate Economy

Federal investments in the rural new climate economy would also provide benefits beyond job creation. Wind energy can help farmers and landowners earn money, providing additional income support and enhancing financial stability during lean times. Energy efficiency projects can help reduce energy bills for rural households by as much as 25%, representing more than $400 in annual household savings.

Investments in wildfire risk mitigation can help reduce the danger that catastrophic wildfires pose to rural communities and forests — an important point given that western wildfires are becoming more frequent and more destructive. In 2018 alone, wildfires in California cost the U.S. economy 0.7% of the nation’s annual GDP, highlighting the need to invest in measures that can help mitigate fire risks.

Local tax payments generated from these projects also provide much-needed revenue to rural communities for investing in new and improved infrastructure including roads, bridges and schools. In some cases, when a renewable energy project comes to a rural area, it is the largest single taxpayer in the county and accounts for a large share of the county’s budget.

Potential Impact on Economically Disadvantaged Rural Communities

To enable a new climate economy that supports economic wellbeing in all communities, federal investment in the seven areas described above must support the nation’s most economically disadvantaged rural communities.

The new climate economy opportunities described previously could create more than 118,000 jobs for at least five years (a total of 590,000 job-years) in these counties, resulting in over $9.8 billion added to these rural economies annually, including $5.9 billion in employee compensation and $685 million in total taxes.

Economically disadvantaged rural counties in California, Texas, New Mexico, Missouri and Kentucky stand to benefit the most in terms of total jobs supported by federal investment in the seven focus areas of this analysis.

Federal Investment in the New Climate Economy Could Significantly Benefit Economically Disadvantaged Rural Counties

While this job creation is significant, representing approximately 45% of job creation potential from investment in the seven areas of the new climate economy, more needs to be done to ensure economic benefits reach the areas where they are most needed.

Actions on this front could include: workforce training programs in the energy and land sectors with employment guarantees; measures to make clean energy affordable for low-income households; grant programs to support local businesses and nonprofit organizations; and requirements that new program designs be collaborative, inclusive and accessible to all workers.

Federal Policies Can Support a Rural New Climate Economy

The federal government has an opportunity to enact and expand policies that will drive investments in the new climate economy, creating jobs and bolstering rural economies in the process. Fully activating the opportunities analyzed in each of the seven areas would require a suite of federal policies, which could support a larger federal plan for rebuilding infrastructure and mitigating climate change.

The current push by Congress and the Biden administration to invest in the country’s ailing infrastructure and tackle the climate crisis represents the most promising political moment in years to support a new climate economy in rural America.

The proposed American Jobs Plan, representing the administration’s basis for negotiations with Congress on infrastructure, would provide historic levels of federal funding for places that have faced declining economic opportunities.

Several policy provisions of the American Jobs Plan — including investments in transmission lines, rural electric cooperatives to advance low-cost clean energy in rural communities, plugging orphan wells and cleaning up abandoned coal mines, and forest restoration — have the potential to create jobs and spur broad-based economic growth

The investments considered in our analysis, however, will likely not be sufficient on their own to recruit and train the workforce necessary to implement new climate economy pathways.

The policies recommended here will also need to include mechanisms to ensure that jobs created provide minimal barriers to entry, are well-paid, offer opportunities for stable employment and benefits, and support unionization. These components will help ensure that the new climate economy will not just create jobs, but sustain worker and community well-being and create equitable opportunities for all.

Federal policy opportunities by investment area

Renewable energyExtend investment tax credits and production tax credits for renewable energy

Reauthorize tax incentives for clean energy manufacturing facilities through section 48C of the tax code

Expand grant and loan programs that help rural communities finance renewable energy, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP)
Energy efficiencyExtend tax incentives for efficiency upgrades in homes and residential buildings, including the existing homes tax credit (tax code sec. 25C) and new homes tax credit (sec. 45L)

Extend tax incentives for efficiency upgrades in new and existing commercial buildings (sec. 179D)

Boost funding level for block grant programs that channel money directly to state and local agencies for efficiency upgrades, including the Weatherization Assistance Program, State Energy Program, and Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grants program, and create a comparable program for industrial facilities

Expand grant and loan programs targeted at rural communities, including the USDA REAP program, Energy Efficiency Conservation Loan Program, and Rural Energy Savings Program
Transmission, distribution, and storageCreate tax credits to incentivize the build out of transmission projects that are regionally significant and can enable renewable energy integration on the grid and stand-alone energy storage technologies

Reauthorize tax credits to incentivize domestic clean energy manufacturing facilities (sec. 48C)

Reauthorize the Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Investment Grant program to promote investments in smart grid technologies

Authorize the Department of Transportation to make transmission infrastructure projects, especially those that emphasize the integration of renewable energy, eligible under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan guarantee program

Expand loans and loan guarantees through USDA Electric Infrastructure Loan & Loan Guarantee to help finance transmission and distribution systems in rural areas

Create a program to provide grants and technical assistance to rural electric cooperatives to deploy energy storage and microgrid technologies
Environmental remediation of abandoned fossil fuel infrastructureIncrease federal funding to clean up abandoned coal mine sites

Create a new program for plugging and remediation at orphaned oil and gas well sites
Tree restoration on federal landsRemove the funding cap on the Reforestation Trust Fund

Increase appropriations for programs that fund restoration projects on federal land
Tree restoration on non-federal landsImplement a refundable or transferable tax credit for natural carbon sequestration

Enhance USDA conservation programs to incentivize natural carbon sequestration and reduce transaction costs for landowners, especially underserved landowners

Provide additional funding through state and local grants and the State and Private Forestry programs of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS)
Source: The Economic Benefits of New Climate Economy in Rural America, 2021 

Rural America’s Crucial Role in U.S. Climate Change Policies

Rural America will be indispensable in enabling the country to reach net-zero emissions: rural farmers, ranchers, and forest owners manage large segments of lands that hold enormous opportunities for climate mitigation. Rural areas are also crucial for clean energy development: 99% of all onshore wind capacity in the country is located in rural areas, as is the majority of utility-scale solar capacity.

U.S. climate policy, informed by the unique needs and context of rural America, can not only harness the power of rural communities to address climate change but also generate significant economic opportunities for these communities. This approach will be essential to helping the nation meet ambitious decarbonization goals while creating millions of good jobs across the country.  

This article was originally published by the World Resources Institute.

The Economic Lifeblood of Trees

Photo Credit: Michael Mardon/American Forests.

Suzanne Radford knows the power of forests to help heal the sick and stressed. Those incredible capabilities enabled her to turn a passion for nature into a career. She now guides and coaches people in ways to use the sights, sounds and smells of the woods to create a sense of calm — something referred to as “forest bathing.”

Radford is one of many people starting to realize that trees and, more broadly, forests are an engine for job creation. More than 106,000 people in the United States work directly with forests in jobs, such as conservation scientist, forest manager and logger, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But many more have jobs that are linked to forests in less obvious ways. From science teachers to whiskey barrel makers to artists, people in myriad professions need forests and trees. In cities, park planners design urban oases that revolve around trees and the benefits they provide people. Sculptors carve wood reclaimed from old buildings into beautiful items that can be sold. And what would wildlife photographers do without forests that provide habitat for countless animals and birds?

Forests aren’t just something pretty to look at or walk through. They are the economic lifeblood for an increasing number of people in the United States.

Forest Bathing Guide

Lying on the trunk of an oak tree, Radford listens to a soundscape of birdsong and insects humming. A growing body of research shows that time spent in nature helps boost people’s moods and reduces anxiety and stress. Companies hire her as a nature coach to help their employees manage stress through time spent outdoors.

Photo Credit: Michael Mardon.

Suzanne Radford is a certified forest bathing guide and forest therapy practitioner. She helps people connect to nature through excursions in the Serra de Monchique mountain range of the Iberian Peninsula in Southern Portugal. Years ago, Radford discovered a secret waterfall in a forest she frequently visits. Now she offers her clients a chance to sit beside water, watch its movement and flow and listen as it cascades over the rocks. She encourages forest bathers to imagine the role the waterfall plays in feeding the mountain and surrounding forest, and to let the water wash over their hands and feet.

Production Arborist

Benyah Andressohn was 6 when he started climbing trees. Little did he know he would find his calling up in those branches. In high school he wanted a job that would pose a daily challenge, change the environment and allow him to use his brain. Becoming an arborist made perfect sense.

Photo Credit: Day’s Edge Productions / American Forests.
Photo Credit: Day’s Edge Productions / American Forests

Andressohn works for True Tree Service in Miami, where he is a production arborist, trained to safely ascend and descend trees in order to care for them. Our cities need many more like him. Urban forestry is expected to see a 10% increase in job openings for entry-level positions by 2028.

Park Planner

Once they have identified a site for a park, planners like Clement Lau create a vision for the space. Here is his rendering of a pocket park proposed for Walnut Park, a community in Los Angeles County with very few trees and parks compared to other communities. Once grown, the trees included here will help improve air quality and cool down the neighborhood on hot days. Credit: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Photo Credit: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

As a park planner for the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, Clement Lau analyzes data, such as demographics, existing parkland, trees and transportation, to determine which unincorporated areas need parks the most. In places like Los Angeles County, parks are considered key infrastructure for quality of life, and trees are a major component of park planning.

 Here, Lau enjoys an afternoon at Arcadia County Park, which he frequents with his family. Photo Credit: Susan Lau.

Wood Sculptor

Canadian-based sculptor Patricia Aitkenhead’s carved animals make popular pendants and totems. But her business started with a classic debate: cats or dogs? As a way to settle the issue, she crafted a chess set comprised of a team of cats and a team of dogs. She chose breeds with traits she thought might fit their position on the board. Here, these pugs are the pawns.

Photo Credit: Patrick L. Whalen.

Barrel Makers

Securing top and bottom barrel heads is one of the last touches in barrel production. Here, an employee at Kentucky Cooperage is placing the head hoop on a barrel.

Photo Credit: Independent Stave Company.

Oak barrels being charred at Kentucky Cooperage in Lebanon, Ky. The charred American oak barrel is a cornerstone of American whiskey, and white oaks specifically are used in the aging of bourbon. Barrel makers char spirit barrels to create flavor, color, aroma, a char layer that acts as a filter, and to break down the wood cell walls so the spirit can extract flavors from the oak.

Wildlife Photographer

Richard Cronberg has been photographing wildlife for 40 years and sells his photos commercially in art shows, fundraising events, retail stores and online. Perhaps best known for his bird photos, Cronberg here is capturing a group of Snow and Ross’s Geese taking flight at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in California.

Photo Credit: Russell Cronberg.

Here, Cronberg has photographed a northern pygmy owl, which make their homes in dense forests near streams in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Songbirds are the northern pygmy owl’s favorite meal, so it can often be found near a group of agitated songbirds that gather to scold it. Photo Credit: Richard Cronberg.

The tree swallow, found throughout much of North America, makes its nests in the cavities of trees. But when it emerges, this beautiful acrobatic bird chases flying insects through fields and wetlands. Photo Credit: Richard Cronberg.

This article was originally written for American Forests Magazine.