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History of Tree Planting in the United States

A Timeline and History of Wildland Forest Regeneration

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Accurate estimates for wildland tree plantations in the United States have been historically hard to obtain. Educated guesses by forestry experts using limited real data suggest that by 1952, there were nearly 5 million acres of tree plantations in the United States.

Not much is known about tree planting before 1927 when the U.S. Bureau of forestry and future U.S. Forest Service began keeping limited records. There were only a few tree nursery systems that could mass produce trees. When there were tree plantings, few planting records were kept. It is known that trees have been planted in significant numbers in the wild for over 200 years.

By 1992 the number of acres of wildland planted trees had increased to 32 million acres where 72 percent of these were in the southern United states. By 1997, there were about 36 million acres in the South, 4 million acres in the North, and 14 million acres in the West for a total of 54 million acres of planted timberland in the United States.

A Tree Planting Timeline

1740s: There are many records of oak tree groves being established throughout the eastern United States during this period. George Washington actually planted numerous tulip poplar on his bowling green at Mt. Vernon.

1805: In Alaska, Russians who then controlled that territory planted "a few spruce seedlings" on Unalaska Island. This island is in in the middle of a chain of islands call the Aleutian Islands.

1840s: In Massachusetts, "many hectars of plantations" were established with plantings of trees. It is not clearly known what kind of trees were planted but that state was certainly the location of some of the first tree plantations in North America.

1895: George Vanderbilt developed his Biltmore Estate near Asheville, North Carolina and offered a commission to Carl Schenck to manage his forest. Schenck accepted the Pinchot/Brandis/Vanderbilt offer to come to North Carolina and succeeded Gifford Pinchot as manager of the Biltmore Estate forest properties. Many seedlings were grown and trees were planted. There are now a few pine plantations that are over 100 years old on the Biltmore property.

1925: There were estimated to be about 382,000 acres of "acceptable" plantations in the United States. Most of the plantations (75 percent) were in the North with 16 percent in the West, and less than 9 percent in the South. Most of the seedlings planted before 1926 originated from Federal nurseries. Many early attempts to plant nursery propigated trees failed due to a lack of experience in proper planting techniques.

1926: This year kicked off a tree planting boom that had never been seen before and lasted for 26 years. Nearly 5 million acres were planted through 1952 and nursery and planting technology was tremendously improved.

1935: Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps initiated a tree planting program that resulted in a sharp increase in acres planted in trees. The seven-year program resulted in millions of acres of trees being planted in the United States.

1952: Tree planting exploded after World War II and by the early 50's there were nearly 5 million acres of tree plantations in the United States.

1956: Large areas of farmland were converted to plantations from 1956-1961 under the Soil Bank Program. This federal program was responsible for the planting nearly 2 million acres of mostly "worn out" farmland. During those years of high demand, tree nurseries were producing seedlings at full capacity.

1959: Morgan Nursery in the state of Georgia produced a record 94 million seedlings that year. The Southeastern States became the leader in planting wildland trees with over 11 million acres, followed by the Pacific Northwest (4 plus million acres) and the South Atlantic States (4 million acres).

1965: State forest nurseries were growing 62 percent of the total seedlings grown in the United States. Forest industry produced 16 percent, Federal nurseries grew 14 percent and private commercial nurseries 8 percent.

1975 - 1997: During the following 22-year period, large areas of marginal timberland and farmland were converted to tree plantations due to the Forest Incentives Program and later the Conservation Reserve Program. The peak year for planting, 1987-88, resulted in 2.3 billion seedlings planted on 3.3 million acres. Over 50 million acres of pine and hardwood trees were planted during this 22-year period - nearly as many acres of planted trees as are growing today.

2002 to date: The latest consolidated report on tree planting on a national scale is reported in a U.S. Forest Service publication called "Forest Resources of the United States, 2002" which is a collection of data from the end of 2001. There are 56 million acres of tree planted in the United States, 4 million in the northern states, 38 million in the south and 14 million in the west.

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