Everything You Need to Know to Develop a Reforestation Plan

Answered by Jana Morgan, m.s.e.,
ISA Certified Arborist, ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualified
Land Planning Project Manager, Associate


Our Planners and Landscape Architects are often asked about renewing green areas that have either been disturbed by development or have deteriorated with time. Jana Morgan clarifies the most important concepts.

What is reforestation?

Reforestation is the process of replanting forest areas that have been damaged or destroyed. Prompt reforestation is always desirable to prevent invasive or undesirable species from dominating, making establishment of desired tree species difficult. Over the years, we have provided reforestation plans for many projects where the Recourse Protection Areas or other areas were disturbed and trees were removed.

What are benefits of reforestation?

Reforestation improves the soil infiltration rate as the tree roots break up compacted soil layers and slow down runoff over these areas. Replacing turf or barren ground with a forest provides many benefits, including wildlife food and habitat, improved water quality, erosion control and the absorption of pollution and dust from the air. Reforestation reduces the peak rate and volume of stormwater runoff and improves water quality through interception of rainfall by the leaf layer, nutrient uptake, evapotranspiration and infiltration into the soil.

Are certain permits required to remove trees?

Various rules applies for different jurisdictions and land uses. For example, in Fairfax County land disturbance activity on more than 2,500 square feet requires a permit. Non-residential properties may have restrictions on the removal of trees used to meet certain Zoning Ordinance requirements such as transitional screening, parking lot landscaping, or other zoning obligations.

If a property is part of a homeowners association, restrictions on the removal of vegetation may apply. If the property has an environmentally sensitive area such as a Resource Protection Area, removal of trees or other vegetation is strictly prohibited without a waiver.

How do you choose which kinds of trees or vegetation to add?

Native species are always the best candidates for reforestation. Our goal is to mimic the vegetation and species that were previously removed during land disturbance. To establish a mature forest canopy we often propose a mixture of native overstory trees, understory trees, evergreen trees, shrubs and seedlings with tree protection tubes. The quantity of plants depends on the jurisdictional codes and requirements.

In Fairfax County, a Resource Protection Area buffer must be restored / planted with trees on at least 25% of the disturbed area. One seedling must be planted for each 100 square feet of disturbed area and one shrub with a minimum height of 18 inches must be planted for each 100 square feet of disturbed area. We work closely with our clients to determine the best mix that will both satisfy requirements and fulfill the aesthetic of the client’s project.

At what point in a new building project are your services required?

Reforestation is required if vegetation is removed for various land uses. A Tree Preservation Plan must be submitted to the county with the proposed reforestation plan for the disturbed forest area to avoid receiving a violation. If trees are removed without the approved plan, a violation could be issued.

Do you have further questions about how reforestation could improve your property?

Jana would be happy to work with you: janamorgan@ccl-eng.com