Regeneration of non-stocked forestland in the U.S.

Regeneration of non-stocked forest land in the U.S. could yield substantial environmental and economic benefits

Nearly 20 million acres of forest land in the contiguous U.S. are currently defined as non-stocked following fires and other recent disturbances, according to a paper by Guild board chair Al Sample in the July Journal of Forestry. The analysis was based on the latest available forest inventory and analysis data from the USDA Forest Service. There are several reasons why forests have not grown back, and two of the main causes are uncharacteristic, high-severity fires and invasive plants. On public lands, reforestation funding has not kept pace with forest disturbances. For example, on public lands reforestation funding has remained level at roughly $50 million annually even as the number of acres burned by high-severity wildfire is on an upward trajectory. Fire caused 62 percent of the non-stocked forestland. Grazing, drought, insects, disease, and timber harvest were also significant causes of the lack of regeneration. About half of the non-stocked forest is private land, a third is National Forest System land, 14 percent is other federal land, and 7 percent is state land.

Regeneration of these forest lands would restore wildlife habitat, protect water resources, and store nearly 50 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent annually as reforested areas grow to full stocking (offsetting emissions from over 10 million cars). Capitalizing on even a portion of this opportunity would require a multi-year strategy, as well as significant increases in current funding levels for reforestation. However, according to this study, more than 50 percent of the total potential additional carbon sequestration on National Forest lands could be achieved by regenerating just the most productive 30 percent.  Focusing on just the most productive 30 percent of non-stocked private lands could achieve more than 70 percent of the total carbon sequestration potential.

Reforestation presents a unique opportunity to help make these ecosystems more resilient to climate change through careful tree provenance selection and planting of a mix of species well-suited to local climate changes. Other reforestation activities such as site preparation and removal of invasives could facilitate natural regeneration of native species. An initiative aimed at regenerating public and private forests impacted by recent major disturbances could help create significant new employment opportunities in rural, forest-based communities—opportunities that actually enhance the restoration and sustainable management of America’s forests.


Sample, V. A. 2017. Potential for Additional Carbon Sequestration through Regeneration of Nonstocked Forest Land in the United States. Journal of Forestry 115(4):309-318.