Meet the State Forester

Photo of the UNL Campus
Mr. Erixson assumed the position of state forester in 2017.

If you spend a few minutes with us, you can learn some useful things about Nebraska’s forest resources and about our agency and the services we provide.

In the mid-1800s when the first settlers ventured into the area that is now Nebraska, they encountered a land that was virtually devoid of trees. What few trees there were existed along the rivers and streams and in other areas protected from the frequent prairie wildfires.

The scarcity of trees posed enormous hardships for settlers. Without trees, they lacked the materials needed to build houses, barns, corrals, wagons and other items used for everyday living. They adapted in several ways, however, one of which was to build their homes from "Nebraska marble," better known as prairie sod. They also began suppressing wildfires, the bane of trees on the prairie.

The pioneers also adapted by planting trees. Nebraska became known as the "Tree Planter State" because our residents planted so many trees. Arbor Day, an event now celebrated in every state and many foreign countries, was started in Nebraska on April 10, 1872. On that one day, Nebraskans planted more than 1 million trees, according to newspaper reports.

When European settlement began it’s likely that trees covered fewer than 1 million acres or less than 2 percent of Nebraska’s land area. Today, Nebraska has about 2 million acres of trees.

John Erixson Nebraska State Forester/Director

The increase has come about because of the effective suppression of wildfires, the expansion of forest cover along the rivers and streams, the reversion of some marginal croplands to pasture or other uses that permit the establishment of trees, and because of the planting activities of the people who live and work in Nebraska.

Nebraskans have not only planted woodlots, orchards, firewood plantations, windbreaks, shelterbelts, and wildlife habitat, they have also planted community forests in cities, towns and villages across the state. Interest in community forests is high across Nebraska. Despite our relatively low population, Nebraska is one of the top ten states in the nation in the number of communities that have been designated as "Tree City USA" by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Incidentally, the National Arbor Day Foundation was established in Nebraska by Nebraskans and is located in Nebraska City on our eastern border, the Missouri River.

Nebraska is a prairie state. We Nebraskans are proud of our wide-open grasslands, but our forests are noteworthy too. For example, Bessey Nursery, established by the USDA Forest Service in 1903 to provide seedlings for planting in Nebraska, is the longest continuously operating Forest Service nursery in the nation. Bessey Nursery is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Until a fire destroyed 40 percent of it in the mid-1960s, Nebraska had one of the largest man-planted forests in the country, some 32,000 acres near Halsey in the Nebraska Sandhills. Today, Bessey Nursery and the forest surrounding it is part of the Nebraska National Forest, Nebraska’s only national forest. Nebraska even has a state forest, Cedar Canyon State Forest near North Platte.

Trees reduce the wind, provide shade, control the drifting snow and have significantly improved our living conditions here on the Great Plains. Today trees provide Nebraskans with lumber and the usual commodities that come from forests, but trees also protect our crops, reduce soil erosion, shelter our farmsteads, and livestock, provide living places for wildlife and enhance living conditions in our communities. Trees have been extremely important to Nebraskan in the past, they are important today and they will continue to be important in the future. The Nebraska Forest Service’s mission is to provide services and education to the people of Nebraska for the protection, utilization and enhancement of the State’s tree, forest, and other natural resources.

John Erixson
Nebraska State Forester/Director