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Reforestation Programs

Minimum Measure: Public Involvement/Participation

Subcategory: Stormwater-Related Activities

Description Photo of a reforestation program teaches children about the importance of planting trees

Reforestation is essential to the restoration of many natural habitats. Forested buffers that lie between land and water are an essential part of the ecosystem. In some parts of the country, however, they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Reforestation programs attempt to preserve and restore forested buffers and natural forests. In areas all over the country, volunteers, community groups, and state and local conservation groups have initiated tree planting efforts.

In addition to buffer establishment and reforestation, municipalities can accomplish several tasks, including park improvement, neighborhood and highway beautification, and the planting of shade trees in parking and pedestrian areas. A municipality should determine their priorities and identify candidate sites for reforestation accordingly.

With the variety of tasks involved in tree planting efforts, everyone can help out. While some people may participate in strenuous activities like moving wheelbarrows, hauling plants, or shovelling soil, others can volunteer in less-strenuous ways. For example, some organizations establish small nurseries to maintain a steady supply of trees. Volunteers can pot seedlings and care for them during the 2 years it takes before they are ready to transplant to a natural setting. Other participants might be responsible for contacting local businesses, residences, or nursery farms to seek financial or vegetative donations.


Reforestation programs can be used throughout a community to reestablish forested cover on a cleared site, establish a forested buffer to filter pollutants and reduce flood hazards along stream corridors, provide shade and improve aesthetics in neighborhoods and parks, and improve the appearance and pedestrian comfort along roadsides and in parking lots. The municipality is responsible for selecting candidate sites for reforestation programs. These decisions can be based on residents' recommendations or on overall capital improvement goals of the community.


1. Identify the responsible agency.

Municipalities should determine who will be responsible for the reforestation program. Usually this responsibility is given to the local environmental department, if one exists, but this department must have the organizational and managerial capacity to handle such an undertaking. Additional staff may need to be hired to conduct this program. Another option is to solicit volunteer organizations to run the program. The municipality can provide support to these volunteer groups in the form of materials, equipment, staff supervision, and funds for additional expenditures.

2. Determine funding sources.

Funding for a reforestation program can come from a variety of sources, both public and private. Federal grants are available through USDA (Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, Forestry Incentives Program, Resource Conservation and Development Program, Small Watershed Program, Watershed Surveys and Planning) and EPA 319(h) funding for nonpoint source demonstration projects, among others. More information about these and other federal grant programs can be found at USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service website Exit EPA Site and EPA's Nonpoint Source Control Branch website. State funds may also be available for reforestation programs. Municipalities should check with state environmental agencies to identify grant and loan programs that are available for this purpose.

Additionally, municipalities may obtain private sources of funding. Partnerships can be established with nurseries or with the organizations participating in the volunteer effort. Also, municipalities can solicit contributions from developers and businesses that want to be associated with this endeavor. Finally, citizens can donate money to have trees, groves, or parks named after them.

3. Select sites to be reforested, and choose the plants that will be used.

Once the program and funding are established, the next step is to choose sites suitable for tree planting efforts. Areas of disturbance, such as sparsely vegetated streambanks or areas on the periphery of a forest, are often ideal for restoration efforts. When the site is selected, it is important to conduct a detailed feasibility study to ensure the success of the tree planting. Each site has unique soil and other environmental characteristics that must be considered when selecting tree species to be planted. To properly assess a site, it is wise to consult a local horticulturist or landscape architect for technical assistance. Park employees, rangers, local scientists, and nursery and garden store experts can also provide advice on the types of native tree species appropriate under various conditions. Municipalities should develop a timetable for planting depending on program priorities, site conditions, and the availability of materials and labor.

4. Organize an outreach campaign to recruit volunteers.

Once the site is chosen, the tree species selected, and a schedule set, the municipality should organize an outreach campaign to inform the public about the reforestation program. The campaign can advertise the reforestation program at town meetings or in meetings held with individuals and groups, such as neighborhood coalitions, that might be interested in participating in a reforestation program. Additionally, if municipalities have a website or newsletter, the program and volunteer opportunities can be advertised there.

5. Obtain materials for the tree planting.

Once volunteers are found, the next step is to secure the materials and equipment needed for tree planting events. Trees for plantings can be donated, purchased commercially, or grown by the program workers or volunteers. It is important to recognize that growing trees involves a significant time committment (up to 2 years). A committment is needed from the nursery that the plants will be delivered in a timely manner for the planting.

The site might need to be prepared for planting. This preparation includes clearing any vines or other overgrowth from the planting area. Equipment and supplies also must be collected prior to the planting. For example, shovels, wheel barrels, gardening gloves, pruning cutters, and mulch should be gathered and transported to the site. The public works department or a local contractor can supply this equipment.

6. Start planting.

With the materials collected and in place, tree planting can begin. Trees and shrubs take about a year to become established in a new environment, during which time substantial root growth occurs. To ensure that trees flourish in their new environment, consult with a horticultural specialist or other expert for detailed planting instructions and specifications. The plant specialist should also recommend any maintenance or requirements of the newly planted trees, and inspections should be made to identify and repair vandalism if it occurs. Maintenance can be conducted by the municipality or volunteer groups, but a plan and schedule must be created to ensure that maintenance occurs as scheduled.


With the proper tools, types of plants, planting, and maintenance, reforestation can effectively reduce both the pollutants in and the volume of stormwater. The nonprofit organization American Forests conducted a study in the Houston area to document urban forest covering a 3.2-million-acre area. They also analyzed 25 specific sites with aerial photography using CITYgreen software to map and measure tree cover. Study results show that trees provide significant benefits relative to the quality and quantity of stormwater runoff and energy savings. The study found that Houston's tree cover reduces the need for stormwater management by 2.4 billion cubic feet per peak storm event, saving $1.33 billion in one-time construction costs (ENN, 2001).


Pollutants in urban and agricultural runoff, especially sediment that reduces water clarity, nutrient pollution from fertilizers and manure, and toxics from weed and pest killers, can flow into valuable natural water resources without a vegetated buffer along stream corridors and lakeshores. Trees and forested areas reduce runoff by intercepting the water, thereby increasing surface storage and infiltration. Trees mitigate peak flows through stormwater retention, provide wildlife habitat, offer shade that helps maintain appropriate stream temperatures, and provide aesthetic benefits. Trees are also beneficial in urban areas. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but they also provide wildlife habitat, capture rainfall, and reduce the urban heat index, which in turn reduces the need for air conditioning.


Limitations to an effective reforestation program include the costs associated with buying and planting the trees and other vegetation, finding people to install and maintain the plants, and continuing the upkeep of the buffer areas. Weather events, such as hurricanes, storms or droughts, can significantly damage reforested areas. These weather events are unavoidable, but if indigenous vegetation is used, the plants are more likely to survive.


Reforestation programs involve a variety of costs, especially staff time needed to organize the program, select sites, coordinate supplies, and recruit, organize, and supervise volunteers. Supplies and equipment might also be expensive, depending on the size of the reforestation effort. The cost to the municipality can be minimized by soliciting donations from businesses and private citizens and by obtaining grants and loans from public sources.


Trees for Houston. 1999. Reforestation Program. Trees for Houston, Houston, TX. []. Accessed November 14, 2012.

Trees for Houston. 1999. Trees for Houston's Neighborhood/Parkway Program. Trees for Houston, Houston, TX. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed November 14, 2012.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 2003. Current Status. Trees for Houston, Houston, TX. []. Accessed September 8, 2005.


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Last updated on February 20, 2014