Record wildfires that burned thousands of acres of trees in 2012 left scars across the forests of north-central and northwest Nebraska.
More than 500,000 acres of forest and grassland burned, an area larger than Douglas and Sarpy Counties combined. That included 164,000 acres in the Pine Ridge and another 75,000 along the Niobrara River.
So much forested land burned in the Pine Ridge area that it ceased being the state’s largest coniferous forest. After the fire, only about 100,000 acres of forest remained, compared with about 220,000 acres of pine and cedars remaining in the Niobrara Valley.
But the dedicated work of state and federal foresters and volunteers are helping slowly turn the blackened tide. Canopies will return.
Crews with the Nebraska National Forest are planting more than 40,000 trees in northwest Nebraska this spring, the Associated Press reports.
It’s part of a decade-long plan to replace what was lost with native trees and cover. More than 42,000 seedlings were planted last year, and another 40,000 will be planted next spring.
Similar efforts by private landowners are underway to replant blocks of trees and native plants with help from the State Game and Parks Commission and local natural resources districts. Many of those landowners added fire breaks and cleared brush to make their lands safer in the event of future fires, a sound step.
Today is Arbor Day, which founder and Nebraskan J. Sterling Morton called unique among holidays because “each of those reposes on the past, while Arbor Day proposes for the future.”
Trees are planted today in thought for the generations that follow.
With a lot of tending and a little luck, the rolling forested vistas that once wowed visitors to the Pine Ridge will be resurgent. And be it 10 years or a generation from now, visitors and residents will thank the folks who took their state’s longstanding Arbor Day mission to heart.