An Innovative Approach to Reforestation in the Rockies

Written by Katelynn Martinez, Director of Operations and Business Development, OneCanopy

Seedlings in growing trays at OneCanopy

OneCanopy produced more than 300,000 seedlings in their inaugural year, consisting of plants and shrubs native to the Rocky Mountain region.

Amid a global pandemic in the fall of 2020, thick black skies and sidewalks riddled with crisp pine needles blanketed the northern Colorado Front Range. Two of what would become Colorado’s largest wildfires in history, the Cameron Peak Fire and the East Troublesome Fire, roared across the Colorado front range swallowing up vast swaths of forest, habitat, and homes in their wake. The devasting impacts of climate change were knocking on Colorado’s doorstep.

A few months following those seemingly apocalyptic events, The Nature Conservancy and United States Forest Service released a study exploring the country’s aggressive reforestation goals. The researchers concluded that the U.S. needs to produce more than 30 billion trees to adequately address large-scale deforestation from climate change and human-induced disturbances, which requires “additional investments to expand capacity for seed collection, seedling production, workforce development, and improvements in pre- and post-planting practices” (Fargione et al., 2021). In Colorado alone, there’s more than three million acres of reforestation potential and at the time of publication, existing tree producers could only meet 20% of the need, even when operating at full capacity.

Kevin Brinkman, Founder & CEO of OneCanopy, stands amidst the 34,000-square-foot nursery in Loveland, Colorado.

Kevin Brinkman, Founder & CEO of OneCanopy, stands amidst the 34,000-square-foot nursery in Loveland, Colorado.

Upon reading the article, Colorado-based entrepreneur and passionate conservationist Kevin Brinkman felt compelled to act and founded OneCanopy, Colorado’s first reforestation company. Envisioning a world in which human’s relationship with the environment is symbiotic and supportive, the company aims to engage in all facets of the reforestation pipeline, beginning with a seedling nursery growing plants that are native to the Rocky Mountain region. In their inaugural year, OneCanopy has produced over 300,000 seedlings which will go to support wildfire and river restoration, soil conservation, and food sovereignty efforts.

The flexibility that comes with being a private entity allows OneCanopy to broaden collaborations and tailor their services to meet the needs of their customers . OneCanopy’s client list is broad and includes federal, state, and local governments, nonprofits, tribal agencies, and private landowners. Over time, OneCanopy plans to add project financing and implementation, seed collection, outplanting, and post-project monitoring to their list of services. Their goal is to serve as a “one stop shop” for reforestation in the Rocky Mountains.

Photo of One Canopy staff in the greenhouse

From left – Josh Stolz, Nursery Manager; Katelynn Martinez, Director of Operations & Business Development; and Zach Clark-Lee, Production Supervisor.

Recognizing the importance of community within reforestation, OneCanopy has positioned itself as a social enterprise where profits are reinvested in the company in order to expand their reforestation and restoration potential. They also have community impact goals focused on education, volunteer opportunities, nonprofit support, and skilled workforce training, to further strengthen the larger reforestation community and pipeline.

As the climate continues to change and instances of catastrophic disturbance increase, human-assisted reforestation is proving critical to sustaining our forested ecosystems. Innovative and sustainable solutions are needed to address this complex and pressing issue. OneCanopy hopes to serve as a model for how private industry can play a role in reforestation in the Rocky Mountain region.   

Fargione, J., Haase, D., Burney, O., Kildisheva, O., Edge, G., Cook-Patton, S., Chapman, T., Rempel, A., Hurteau, M., Davis, K., Dobrowski, S., Enebak, S., De La Torre, R., Bhuta, A., Cubbage, F., Kittler, B., Zhang, D. and Guldin, R. (2021). Challenges to the Reforestation Pipeline in the United States. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, 4.

Editor’s note: OneCanopy is now a Forest Stewards Guild organizational sponsor.