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“Five Million Trees, Please”: Maryland Rolls Out ‘5 Million Trees’ Initiative

Photo of student planting a tree near a creek

Students from the Northern High School Interact Club planted serviceberry, river birch, and American plum trees at the Oakland Rotary Park

For the next eight years the Maryland Forest Service will feature a familiar refrain: 5 Million Trees!

The 5 Million Trees Initiative was mandated by legislation, the Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021. Part of this legislation included a historic directive to plant 5 million native trees on public and private land by 2031. These trees are in addition to standard state planting levels–so with more than six million people living in Maryland, at least one tree will be planted for each resident by 2031.

Getting Trees in the Ground
One of the first questions the Maryland Department of Natural Resources considered was how to prepare the forestry industry to provide that many trees. Time is needed for trees to grow from seed to the desired planting size, which can vary. Large-scale plantings use tree seedlings, about 1.5 years old, with about 400 seedlings planted per acre. Smaller plantings usually use containerized trees, which are grown for an additional 1-3 years or longer before planting. In order to meet the 5 Million Trees goal, an additional half-million seedlings need to reach the desired planting size each year.

The Maryland Forest Service quickly put a tree-growing plan into action in response to the Initiative. The department’s John S. Ayton State Tree Nursery, which produces tree and shrub seedlings for plantings across Maryland and Delaware, received special permission to purchase extra seeds and begin growing out the seedlings needed for the first few years of the Initiative.

Photo of group of a dozen people posing with newly planted trees

The Maryland Forest Service partnered with the Sierra Club’s Southern Maryland Group to plant trees at three sites in spring 2022.

The Ayton Nursery, located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, grows millions of seedlings each year. Nursery Manager Richard Garrett says that seedlings are like any other agricultural crop, but managed differently due to the time scale. Each nursery field has at least 100 beds, each about 100 yards long. Each bed has six rows, with hundreds of tree seedlings per row. The beds are managed by species and harvested accordingly.

Once harvested, the seedlings are shipped to planting sites all over Maryland. Foresters and contractors plant and maintain the seedlings, using best practices for high survival rates. The Tree Solutions Act includes provisions for the maintenance of all trees planted–a historic first for a tree-planting bill.

Photo of students planting several trees on grassy lawn near forest edge

60 trees were planted at Big Run State Park in partnership with Trout Unlimited, Maryland Forest Service, Maryland Park Service, Maryland Fisheries Service and Frostburg State University students

Sharing the Shovel
The Tree Solutions Act addresses three state agencies: the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Maryland Department of the Environment, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Trust also features in the initiative. Together these four organizations will be leading the effort to plant trees, track progress, and provide resources to get the five million trees in the ground and facilitate ongoing maintenance.

The Department of Agriculture will be responsible for the continued implementation of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, including signing bonuses for landowners enrolling in the program. The Department of the Environment will track initiative progress with a new position, the 5 Million Tree Program Coordinator. The Department of Natural Resources is adding 13 contractual employees, including one working at the state nursery, who will be trained to assist public and private landowners in navigating state programs to find the best means to plant trees. The Chesapeake Bay Trust will also receive annual funding to run a grant program for projects in underserved urban areas.

Photo of woman and three children planting a young tree

Harford County’s 19th Arbor Day event at Harford Waste Disposal Center planted 230 native trees and provided free trees to attendees

Along with state agencies, the success of the 5 Million Trees Initiative will depend on partnerships of many kinds. These partners range from individual landowners to state land managers; from the Girl Scouts of the USA to Coppin State University; from Southern Maryland Sierra Club to Garrett County Forestry Board. The cooperation and involvement of all of these groups and others like them will be vital to the planting and maintenance of Maryland’s new 5 million trees.

Ensuring Equity in Planting
To ensure equity in the placement of the trees, the 5 Million Trees Initiative directs that 10% of these trees – 500,000 – will be planted in underserved urban areas. For this Initiative, these urban areas are defined by the United States Census Bureau as a neighborhood that was, at any point in time, redlined or graded as “hazardous” by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. Other qualifying factors for census-designated areas include above-average unemployment, median household income below 75% of median income, and/or Department of Housing and Community Development housing projects. Priority is given to grant applicants who prioritize local organizations and engage local individuals, groups, or businesses to implement and maintain the projects. Implementation of these programs began in July 2022. Planting program procedures are in testing phases on public lands and will continue to increase on private lands over the years to come.

Stay in the Loop!
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources will continue to post news and initiative updates online at The 5 Million Trees, 5 Million Voices series will highlight planting opportunities undertaken by the Maryland Forest Service.

Do you want to plant at home and be a part of 5 Million Trees? Get a Marylanders Plant Trees coupon for $25 off the price of one tree at participating nurseries:

Anne Gilbert is the Maryland Forest Service’s Urban & Community Forestry Coordinator for the Central Region. Article appears in Vol. 26, No. 2 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine.