Involving Private Landowners in Reforesting the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley

Aerial view of GreenTrees interplantings. Photo by GreenTrees.

The Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partners with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Mississippi State University, and others to reforest previously forested land that was cleared and converted to marginally productive farm land in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (LMAV). The Southern Research Station (SRS) Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research (CBHR) located in Stoneville, MS, developed the technique of interplanting cottonwoods with other hardwoods such as Nuttall oak. The  method quickly creates a forest environment in which slower growing hardwoods can develop straighter, less branchy stems while sheltered by fast growing cottonwoods.

Ted Leininger, CBHR project leader, provides some background on how the research jumped into application to provide economic and conservation benefits for private landowners and corporations. “About 2005, leaders of Wildlife Mississippi , a Stoneville nongovernmental organization, became interested in the interplanting concept because of the rapid capture of the site by the cottonwoods and the great potential for carbon sequestration that the rapid growth offered,” he says. “Wildlife Mississippi in turn knew people at GreenTrees® , and a meeting was set up here in Stoneville so that SRS research forester Emile Gardiner and I could show them our study and explain the silvicultural and economic advantages behind it.”

GreenTrees® is a privately managed forest restoration and carbon sequestration program created for landowners within the seven states of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley. GreenTrees was created and is managed by C2I, LLC of Virginia.

Leininger explains that within the next year or two, GreenTrees® adopted the interplanting method for their afforestation efforts in the mid-South and began asking him and Gardiner about modifying the method to include twice as many hardwoods per acre. The original design called for 302 cottonwoods and 151 hardwoods per acre. GreenTrees® now plants 302 cottonwoods and 302 hardwoods per acre; conservation objectives determine the mixture of hardwood species planted.

GreenTrees® seeks to restore open and marginal farmland in the LMAV, the Nation’s largest watershed, to hardwood forest ecosystems capable of sustainably sequestering large amounts of carbon dioxide, providing habitat for wildlife and birds–and benefiting landowners economically by leasing their land to GreenTrees, and from timber harvests. GreenTrees® leases private lands for planting millions of trees in the LMAV, including parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Page Gravely, GreenTrees® senior director, says, “The 302-302 interplanting regimen not only accelerates carbon sequestration and benefits wildlife populations and habitat development, it also enhances water retention, and buffer impacts.”

Maturing Nutall oaks in GreenTrees stand. Photo by GreenTrees.

“GreenTrees has restructured the lease agreements they now offer to landowners,” says Gardiner. “It’s changed from a 70-year lease to a 15-year lease. The redesigned, shorter term lease is more aligned with the 15-year lease landowners typically enter into through the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).” The CRP helps agricultural producers use environmentally sensitive land for conservation benefits. Producers enrolled in CRP plant long-term, resource-conserving covers, including trees, to control soil erosion, improve water and air quality, and develop wildlife habitat. In return, the FSA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. NRCS provides technical assistance. This year, the sign up period for CRP runs from March 12 through April 6, 2012.

GreenTrees® also offers lease agreements to landowners enrolled in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). The USDA Farm Bill offers both of these voluntary programs to provide conservation and economic benefits to landowners.

Two corporations, Duke Energy, one of the largest utility companies in the South, and Norfolk Southern, a Class 1 railroad shipping and transportation company, partner with GreenTrees® in a reforestation program designed to offset carbon dioxide. GreenTrees consultants work with landowners to deliver conservation on the ground while increasing their income. GreenTrees® offers a means of producing capital for landowners for long-term, sustainable conservation through the restoration of high quality bottomland hardwoods.

“GreenTrees and landowners have demonstrated in the field on 40 different sites that planting the right trees in the right soils at the right pH levels leads to success: three-year-old sites have 7-foot hardwoods and 20-foot cottonwoods,” says GreenTrees®” Gravely. “Building on CBHR research, GreenTrees adds a layer of forest management for private landowners, accelerating conservation benefits, while charging a management fee to corporations dedicated to sustainable environmental policies.”

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