NRD helping Nebraska achieve tree planting objectives

With Nebraska Forest Service reporting an 18 percent average loss in tree canopy across communities in the state, the Upper Niobrara White Natural Resources District (NRD) is reaching out to landowners and partnering with other agencies to replant its lost trees.

“It’s hard to identify a single cause. I’d call it a chronic problem,” Upper Niobrara White NRD General Manager Pat O’Brien said. “We’re re-educating producers about the value of windbreaks; we’re really working on trying to get as many trees and shrubs in on the ground as we can and working with producers to get things modified for them.”

In the past 15 years, wildfires have stripped more than 235,000 acres of forest just in the Pine Ridge area of the district alone. Fires in Niobrara Valley burned another 76,700 acres.

Add to that drought, early winter freeze killings, flooding – the west side of the state where Upper Niobrara White NRD is located typically is dry land – and disease, and the large ponderosa stands and other coniferous trees have been hit hard. The area is also still reeling from economic shifts a decade ago when commodities skyrocketed and many producers removed windbreaks and buffers to gain cropland and additional income.

Whereas the NRD at one time was planting approximately 700,000 trees annually through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and other cost-share programs, federal changes have dropped that to about 100,000 a year, O’Brien said.

“It’s a challenge when you have 10 to 15 years of putting that many trees in the ground – you’re pretty happy, but there’s only so many places trees can go,” O’Brien said. “We’re also looking at the maintenance and going back and looking at survivability and replanting.”

The NRD is educating producers on the values of windbreaks – increased moisture capture, reduced erosion, crop protection, wildlife cover, etc. – and is working with landowners and producers to provide alternatives and modifications to replanting efforts that will fit their needs, as well.

“We’re trying to show folks that you have these windbreaks and the canopy and what they provide,” O’Brien said. “What is the actual offset that you’re going to gain? That’s what we’re trying to educate the producers on.”

Upper Niobrara White NRD is fielding calls from more landowners for such assistance each year, he said.

“Probably the best thing we have is neighbors educating neighbors,” he said. “We can have someone who has the windbreaks say, ‘look at my field and what it can achieve because of the windbreaks,’ and neighbors see a crew out working next door and ask what that’s all about. That’s when we start getting calls.”

The NRD offers a 50-50 cost-share program for windbreaks or shrub planting. Participation is rising in that program as more requests than funding available are coming in, O’Brien said.

Upper Niobrara White NRD is also partnering with the Nebraska Forest Service on an agreement to put 30,000-60,000 trees in the ground in the fire-scarred areas, with contributing funds from the Arbor Day Foundation and U.S. Forest Service. O’Brien believes that program will continue for an additional three years.

The Bessey Nursery, run by the U.S. Forest Service, is also growing more potted trees, meaning the roots are contained in a plug of soil, which tend to have a better mortality rate than bareroot trees planted, O’Brien said, and the NRD is utilizing those, as well.

Tags: Forestry Notes

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