Cottonwood trees used as ‘trainers’ for valuable hardwoods
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service and private landowners in the South and Midwest are partnering in a unique reforestation effort that promotes carbon sequestration and the regrowth of valuable hardwood forests on underused farmland in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
The cottonwood-hardwood interplanting reforestation method was developed by the Forest Service Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research, in Stoneville, Mississippi, and more than three million new mixed hardwood tree species have already been planted. Another six million trees are scheduled to be planted on 10,000 acres over the next five years in Louisiana and Mississippi. About 302 hardwoods and 302 cottonwoods will be planted per acre.
The long-term plan for the project, called GreenTrees, builds on increments of 15-year leases with participating landowners. The length of the leases increases the environmental benefits of the project, by protecting collected carbon for 40 years.
“This partnership combines resources that will create wildlife habitat, produce wood for paper and lumber, and remove carbon from the air for decades,” said Ted Leininger, project leader for the Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research. “It is so rewarding when the research of our dedicated scientists produces outcomes that benefit the environment and the economy. Successes like this inspire us to work harder to find more solutions to America’s natural resource problems.”
In 1994, the research center scientists began testing different methods that would allow farmers to efficiently turn their underused land into valuable woodlands that would revitalize soil, generate revenue and collect carbon.
The planting method adopted by GreenTrees uses cottonwood trees as trainers for hardwood seedlings. Also known as poplars, cottonwood trees grow from 70 to 100 feet tall, about 10 feet per year, and adapt to various soils and climates. Once established, the cottonwoods provide a forest environment that promotes the growth of straight-stemmed hardwoods, which grow much slower than cottonwoods.
Cottonwoods can be cut three times during the first 25 years of the interplanting cycle and be used to produce bioenergy and bio-based products, including composites, paper, and chemicals. The trees also serve as habitat for many bird species found in neighboring bottomland hardwood forests. Once the cottonwoods are finally cut away, the hardwoods are left to flourish under a sustainable forest management plan until they are ready for harvesting.
Under the GreenTrees agreements, landowners retain their land and can bring in additional revenue through recreational usage, conservation tax benefits, and regulated timber sales through the USDA Conservation Reserve Program. The voluntary program provides agricultural landowners annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource-conserving covers on eligible farmland.