In What World of Crazy Is There a Seedling Shortage?

August Forestry Center manager Josh McLaughlin at state seedling farm. Photo credit: Virginia Mercury

by James A. Bacon

Environmentalists say there are two ways to combat rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to combat change. One is to reduce emissions, the other is to sequester more carbon. Trees are powerful carbon-sequestration devices, and they don’t require a lot of fancy technology. So, environmentalists say Americans should grow more trees.

So far, so good.

“But every tree starts with a seed,” reports The Virginia Mercury. “To sequester carbon in millions of acres of forest proliferate, many forestry experts say the existing supply of seedlings falls short of what will be needed to meet ambitious climate change goals.”

Wait… What? There’s a seedling shortage?

Indeed there is, according to Chandler Van Voorhis, co-founder and managing partner of ACRE Investment Management headquartered in The Plains, in Fauquier County. “What’s become painfully obvious is there’s just not enough hardwood seedling capacity out there. There’s plenty of pine, but pine’s not what people are looking for.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a PhD in public choice theory, to predict what comes next.

Mo’ money.

Yes, Virginia’s next biennial budget allocates an additional $390,000 for the commonwealth’s only state-run nursery, the August Forestry Center in Crimora, just north of Waynesboro. Unlike commercial nurseries, the Mercury informs us, Crimora specializes in one- to two-year-old seedlings, of which 70% or so go to conservation projects encouraged by the state. Altogether, the center produced 4.2 million seedlings, more than a quarter of which were hardwoods.

Reforestation potential in Eastern U.S. Map credit: Reforestation Hub.

Carbon markets are set to expand. By one estimate cited by the Mercury, the potential exists to reforest 133 million acres in the U.S., including a fair amount in Virginia. The General Assembly approved a task force to explore carbon sequestration in the Old Dominion, and the Biden administration is prioritizing the creation of forestry “carbon sinks.” One bill in Congress would commit $1 billion toward a “national seedling strategy” for reforestation.

This is nuts! Tell me where I’m wrong. First, if a market is emerging for seedlings, whether loblolly pines or hardwood species, why does the government need to get into the business of growing the seedlings? The United States has a vast timber industry. The Garland Gray Forestry Center in Sussex County raised out 30 million loblolly pine seedlings last year. If there’s a demand for hardwood seedlings, what grounds are there for thinking that private companies can’t meet it?

But there’s an even bigger question — a question that I would think environmentalists would be attuned to. What about nature? You know, nature, the very thing that environmentalists yearn to conserve! Last time I checked, nature was still producing billions of seedlings all by itself!

What kind of hubris insists that human intervention is needed to assist nature in doing what it has been doing for the past 360 million years, ever since trees became a thing?

The right-hand NASA satellite photo below shows the area around Mount St. Helens in June 1984, a couple of years after the volcano blew its stack and sterilized the land for miles around. The left-hand shows the view in 2013.

Earth Observatory explains what happened. “Some traces of life survived beneath the debris. Seeds, spores, gophers, fungi. Other flora and fauna survived just beyond the edge of the blighted landscape. And then, as so many scientists and science-fiction authors have said: life found a way. In just a few years, natural colonists reclaimed some of the land. In three decades, they have paved over the destruction with robust green.”

Nature did this all by itself.

If environmentalists want to sequester carbon in trees, do they really need to spend billions of dollars creating seedlings? Wouldn’t their energies be better directed to acquiring conservation easements and allowing farmland to revert to woodlands…. naturally?

Apparently, the concern is that nature doesn’t work fast enough. Nature took 30 years to turn Mount St. Helens green again. Environmentalists want to sequester carbon right now.

Aside from the money issues — is this something we need to deepen deficit spending for? — I’ve got one question. Whom do you trust to create ecologically stable woodlands, the “experts” or natural evolution?

Thought so. Case settled.

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29 responses to “In What World of Crazy Is There a Seedling Shortage?”

  1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “…is this something we need to deepen deficit spending for?”

    No, you could just reverse the Trump tax giveaway to the rich and there would be npo need to add to the deficit for such things.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Once again … it is Snake Face Pelosi who is battling to end the SALT Cap legislation passed during the Trump Administration so that he wealthy constituents will pay lower federal income taxes by having higher state tax offsets.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Oh, so you are saying the rich did not actually benefit from the Trump tax and it wasn’t actually funded on the national debt…?! My bad…

        1. Matt Adams Avatar
          Matt Adams

          SALT exemptions only come into play at incomes over $100k. While that’s somewhat middle class in NOVA, it’s not most other places.

          It affords the rich to offset their federal tax burden because they’ve voted for higher local and states taxes. Benefits that lower income will not be privy too. So it’s used by the rich to keep the poor, poor and out of their neighborhoods.

          Clearly you don’t understand SALT or why limiting its deduction was a good thing. Given your ignorance on most topics, I’m not surprised.

          It was nice to see your court case finally ended, are you going to bash the individuals because you essentially lost?

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        So, you like paying taxes on taxes?

    2. James Kiser Avatar
      James Kiser


  2. Buzzerooni Avatar

    What the heck? I get dozens of new oaks on my property every year because, you know, acorns? I also haven’t noticed a shortage of oak leaves in the fall.

    They make it out like oaks are an endangered species.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Really interesting article. Thanks. Grasslands would fit in very well with solar panels.

      1. WayneS Avatar

        Indeed they would.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    Now I’m more confused. There’s endless barren land that could be planted with gub’mint seedlings but not nearly enough land for the solar panels?

    Put the solar panels where the barren land now sits and screw Nitwit Northam’s Nursery of Nonsense.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      You could plant kudzu on the pipeline, powerline, old power plants and removed mountaintops, no?

      but even if you planted as much as you could, it wouldn’t make much of a dent in the GHG overall volume.

      Not that it should not be done – where it actually can be done, but if we’re serious, we’d have to combine it with other actions – otherwise – it’s mostly feel-good lip service.

  4. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    And yet there are permits for about 60,000 acres where trees will be chopped down….

  5. CJBova Avatar

    There are a few reasons the VDOF gives for why their seedlings are better. Using the results of their research produces better trees. Virginia property owners collect and send in pine cones and acorns of various types they collect on their land. So the trees are suitable for Virginia climate and land. Seedlings grown further south may not be exposed to enough cold to go completely dormant, and dormant seedlings can take shipping and planting better.

  6. Frederick Costello Avatar
    Frederick Costello

    I would be happy to contribute the millions of seeds that fall from my trees each year. Fast-growing species are the best for carbon sequestration. Pond scum is the best. Oaks are probably the worst.

  7. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Understand what is going on here — this is the “net zero” fraud. You plant trees and get offset credits that allow you to continue to burn fossil fuels. California is deep into this scam. The fraudsters leading the morons off this cliff don’t actually care about or expect to change the CO2 levels in the atmosphere, but the financial margins they earn on these offset and REC markets will set them up for great wealth.

    Now they are setting us up to pay for offsets from grasslands? How about offset for thin air.

    It just keeps growing folks. China, India, Africa, all just getting started with the wealth-building that comes from fossil fuel generation and manufacturing. They will not reverse.

  8. energyNOW_Fan Avatar

    I am partial to Ca Redwoods and Giant Sequoias. Guess there are a few baby Sequoias (100-yrs old) in D.C. at the National Arboretum and at the Capitol.

  9. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Unbelievable! You take exception to planting more trees. Not only are they a cheap way to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the atomosphere, but they stabilize the soil and protect our waterways.

    In fact, the justification provided by the Department of Forestry for this budget request involved the need to meet Virginia’s commitments for riparian buffer establishment and other tree planting in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Improvement Plan. The department explained that it needed to expand its production of hardwood tree seedlings because the necessary quantities are not available in the marketplace because there is little retail demand for one- or two-year old hardwood seedlings. The agency anticipates planting 2-3 million seedlings in the fall of 2022 and beyond.

    The $290,000 provided in the enacted budget bill is a one-time appropriation for equipment (tractors, seeders, etc.) that will enable the department to expand its seedling production.

    The Virginia Mercury article discussed this conservation justification, but you ignored it and focused on climate change.

    As for all those loblolly pine seedlings being produced by the Garland Gray Forestry Center, they will be planted in monoculture tree farms, which will likely not provide much riparian protection and will be harvested in 20-30 years.

    Of course, Nature replenishes itself, if left alone. But humans cut down trees faster than Nature can reproduce them. Also, Nature can be inefficient when it comes to reproducing itself. For every million acorns produced by oak trees, only a small fraction will become mature trees. Many will be eaten by squirrels or bears; many will fall on infertile ground and, of those that do sprout, many will be eaten by grazing deer, all of which are valuable to the overall ecology, but do not result in a million trees. In contrast, a much larger percentage of those million one- and two-year old hardwood seedlings will grow into mature trees in 50-60 years.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      I don’t take exception to planting more hardwoods, or to the state spending a pittance on it….but the VA Mercury story was all about carbon capture, net zero, etc. If there truly is a mismatch between demand and supply for saplings, the supply will soon appear.

    2. Dick, I don’t take exception to planting more trees. I love trees. I want more trees. I’m just not convinced that we need more government-subsidized seedlings!

      If trees provide riparian protection, I’m all in favor of that, too. But the idea of subsidizing seedling production to accelerate CO2 sequestration seems ridiculous.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        The Dept. of Forestry has been producing and distributing hardwood tree seedlings for many years. They are not available on a retail basis. If I want to plant a hickory or maple, I can’t go to a nursery and find a seedling. Therefore, if the state needs to plant seedlings as part of riparian protection, it needs to produce its own seedlings (it’s cheaper in the long run, as well). The justification by the Dept. of Forestry for this one-time appropriation was the need to expand its planting for riparian and Chesapeake Bay watershed protection. Others have dragged it into the climate change culture wars.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          We have groups in Fredericksburg, Friends of the Rappahannock and Tree Fredericksburg and others that have yearly seedling distributions that I think come from the State.

          Been going on for some time and not really connected to climate change and the culture wars. The river group has been focused on riparian bank erosion, etc and the Fredericksburg Tree group on city streets, parks and other green spaces.

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    Let’s say that for thousands of years, perhaps millions, the impact of mankind clearing trees was next to nothing.

    Were greenhouse gases a problem then?

    Could vast areas of forest be removed and still not cause a problem with greenhouse gases – even though we had forest fires that went unchecked for years or volcanos, etc?

    Since then, we not only have removed trees, cleared land but burned fossil fuels.

    No legitimate climate scientist that I’ve heard has said there is much we can do about it with respect to tree planting. The vast majority of them say, we’re way beyond that. Planting trees will be a gnat on a dogs butt.

    But we have well-intended folks who think these things – even though, again, as far as I have read, there is no real science supporting this idea.

    So it’s basically a false narrative that the Climate skeptics have ginned up – a straw man they can then knock down.

    more foolishness from the anti-science folk.

    There actually IS some REAL science:

    Why don’t we just plant a lot of trees?

    ” It’s well understood that the carbon dioxide (CO2) we’re emitting into the atmosphere is causing the planet to warm. We also know that trees absorb CO2. So why not plant enough trees to take back all the CO2 we’re dishing out? Unfortunately, “while the idea sounds nice and definitely helps to some extent, we will never be able to counterbalance the amount of fossil fuels we burn by only growing trees,” says Charles Harvey, MIT Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who specializes in environmental management.”

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I don’t think anyone said that planting trees could be the sole answer. For no other reason, it takes 40-50 years for most hardwoods to get to the size that would really help. But, as Dr. Harvey acknowledged, it helps to some extent. Besides, trees provide other benefits, such as shade, soil stabilization, food for wildlife, beauty, and serving as hosts for the larva of hundreds of insects, which in turn are pollinators and food for birds.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        It’s an ecosystem. Yes. And even forests, if undisturbed (as is the case in vast wilderness areas) they grow and die and litter the forest floor with decaying, outgassing materials.

        A very complex process from what I understand and in play for thousands/millions of year long before mankind showed up.

        And forests has sustained mankind both for shelter and fuel for centuries and yet we apparently still did not have too many greenhouse gases. It was only when we started burning fossil fuels that things got out of kilter and as the science indicates, we cannot plant near enough trees to counteract it even if we put back all that we have cleared – we’re still burning way too much fossil fuels. We’re talking one or two percentage points of the problem at best perhaps even less than that.

        Putting trees back in the condition and range they were originally won’t substantially change the trend and magnitude of GW.

        It’s a distraction at best for the bigger issue according to the science.

        1. energyNOW_Fan Avatar

          Isn’t planting trees one of the methods for companies to claim carbon neutral activities by 2050? Not sure why you are being so dismissive. Deforestation is probably a major issue. I get it now, you want to blame industry for the whole problem?

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            From a practical perspective, the issue of trees and deforestation, etc, has been an issue for some time.

            The simple truth is that outside of wilderness areas, trees are a “crop” that is planted then harvested just like other “crops”.

            Trees take a long time to grow. If you wanted much quicker results, you’d use much faster growing vegetation.

            Perhaps like Kudzu that would much more easily and quickly recover exposed land.

            But then we’d get away from the culture war and that just wouldn’t do for the climate skeptics as an issue.

            The “trees” is a pretext for the skeptics, not a legitimate issue because trees can’t make a dent in the bigger issue of massive use of fossil fuels.

            It’s a gnat on a dogs butt.

            Read the science. They don’t come right out and say gnat on a dogs butt, but they essentially say that in more polite words.


            Like I said, this is just another pretext for the climate skeptic warriors.

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