Afforestation in the Midwestern United States

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Summary:

In recent years the Midwestern United States has seen a significant level of reforestation. What makes this case stand out is there has been a net increase in forest cover despite a significant increase in population. While much of the reforestation is occurring on former agricultural land a portion of the reforestation is taking place on formerly mined lands. Most of the reforestation can be attributed to market forces and the work of local community organizations that desire more trees due to their aesthetic appeal, with some additional efforts through government-sponsored programs (Evans 2007; Manson and Evans 2007).

Critical Statistics:
  1. In Monroe County, located in south-central Indiana, forest cover increased from 39 percent to 60 percent in the period of 1939 to 1997 (Manson and Evans 2007).

  2. The Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals has set aside 1,100 acres for specific reforesting, and 2,700 acres as habitat for woody-wildlife (OSM 2006).

  3. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources reports that 981,000 trees were planted between 1999 and 2005 on 1,248 acres of land formerly used for mining (OSM 2006).

  4. The Iowa Division of Soil Conservation identifies some 1,388 acres of former mining land as reforested, with an additional 1,083 acres reclaimed for wildlife habitat (OSM 2006).

  5. The Kansas Department of Health and Surface Mining Section noted that more than 10,045 trees were planted on over 23 acres of former surface mining land between 2001 and 2006 (OSM 2006).

  6. Seven state governments in the Midwest planted a total of over 27,000,000 trees on reclaimed mining land over the past couple of decades (OSM 2006).

Causes:
  1. Reforestation has taken place mainly on abandoned agricultural plots, as it is seen as a viable economic activity in some cases (Evans 2007).

  2. Some farmers have sold their holdings to reforestation groups because they can no longer afford long-term crop production on marginal lands (Evans 2007).

  3. Many individuals have chosen to plant trees in order to significantly improve the aesthetic quality of the landscape, and minimize proverbial 'eye sores' in the midst of suburban expansion (Evans 2007).

  4. As economic conditions have changed, landowners that previously would have selectively harvested timber from their forested areas are now less apt to do so, helping to increase the overall forest cover (Manson and Evans 2007).

  5. Reforestation also stems from both a desire as well as legal requirement to reclaim and rehabilitate lands degraded by surface mining to forest cover (OSM 2006).

  6. Forest cover has also increased in urban and suburban areas, as societal aesthetic values have changed in a manner which appreciates greenspace more than it had previously (Rayburn and Schulte 2009).

Impacts:
  1. With the planting of more trees, the overall quality of both soils and water has risen on degraded lands compared to their prior to reforesting (OSM 2006).

  2. Reforestation has led to increased levels of wildlife habitat (OSM 2006).

  3. Once mined lands have been rehabilitated through new vegetative cover (OSM 2006).

  4. Atmospheric carbon and other greenhouse gases have been sequestered through the new tree growth, but studies at this point have pointed more to potential rather than realized (Sperow 2006).

What is Next:
  1. As household level decision-making factors play an important role in determining the landscape's cover, there is a need to continue to encourage landowners to reforest (Manson and Evens 2007).

  2. Coherent strategies for the preservation of forest cover need to be developed as suburb expansion threatens to restrict levels of continued reforestation (Evans 2007).

  3. Coarse scale analysis is needed in order to evaluate reforestation opportunities at a more meaningful scale than the common practice of measurement at the household or individual plot level, so as to allow for more comprehensive policy decisions (Rayb

  4. Continued focus will be necessary on this issue for some time, as in all likelihood there will be disputes over land use, with its associated cover, as various parties may wish to transform the landscape, whereas others might want to keep

Citations:
  1. Evans, T. 2007. Southern Indiana is greener, but for how long? http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/7099.html (last accessed 25 October 2009).

  2. Evans, T. P., and H. Kelley. 2008. Assessing the transition from deforestation to forest regrowth with an agent-based model of land cover change for south-central Indiana, USA. Geoforum 39(2): 819-832.

  3. Manson, S. M., and T. Evans. 2007. Agent-based modeling of deforestation in southern Yucatan, Mexico, and reforestation in the Midwest United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (52): 20678-20683.

  4. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM). 2006. Reforestation efforts in OSM's mid-continent region. http://www.mcrcc.osmre.gov/PDF/in%20house%20papers/REFORESTATION%20EFFOR... (last accessed 25 October 2009)

  5. Rayburn, A. P., and L.A. Schulte. 2009. Landscape change in an agricultural watershed in the U.S. Midwest. Landscape and Urban Planning 93 (2): 132-141.

  6. Sperow, M. 2006. Carbon sequestration potential in reclaimed mine sites in seven east-central states. Journal of Environmental Quality 35: 1428-1438.