Thursday, March 20, 2014

International Day of Forests is Tomorrow

This global celebration of forests provides a platform to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and of trees outside forests.
Forests cover one third of the Earth's land mass, performing vital functions around the world. Around 1.6 billion people - including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures - depend on forests for their livelihood.
Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than 80% of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Forests also provide shelter, jobs and security for forest-dependent communities.
"Into" the Woods — The Benefits of Forests
In honor of International Day of Forests on March 21st , we thought it might be good to arm you with a list of "value-added" benefits that our forests provide. These points will likely be reinforcing things you already know (and beliefs you already hold). But it's worthwhile to remember that other people might not be as in-tune with nature as you are. Keeping these talking points front of mind just might help sway the opinion of someone who doesn't realize the crucial role that forests play in a healthy ecosystem and in our daily lives.
Improved Air Quality
Forests, or more precisely individual trees, positively affect air quality through a number of beneficial processes. The most obvious way that trees improve our air quality is through the intake of carbon dioxide and release of oxygen. Trees also remove airborne and gaseous pollutants by absorbing them through leaves and needles. They do this by trapping particulates such as dust, ash, pollen, and smoke that could damage our lungs and by absorbing ground-level greenhouse gases. To put this into perspective, consider the fact that one tree can absorb up to 10 lb. of air pollutants per year.
Cooling Effects
Trees help stabilize temperatures and cool the environment. In addition to providing shade, trees also cool through evapotranspiration. During evapotranspiration, energy used in the evaporation process actually cools the local area. Between shade given off and evapotranspiration, trees have been shown to reduce peak summer temperatures by as much as 9°F. The subsequent reduction in energy required to cool homes and businesses also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Better Water Quality
A less obvious environmental benefit is the impact that trees have on our waterways. Forests greatly improve stream quality and overall watershed health by decreasing the amount of pollutants that reach our waters. Trees also capture and store rainfall and release water into the atmosphere via evapotranspiration. Additionally, the forest cover and root systems protect the soil and allow it to better filter pollutants before they can reach the groundwater.
A Source of Biomass Energy
Under the proper management conditions, trees can be used to replace a portion of our dependence on fossil fuels. Although the amount of forested area that could be utilized varies by region, there are definitely areas of the world that can (and do!) use additional biomass (aka: trees) to not only supplement heating resources but create local job opportunities as well. Removal of excess fuel stores may also make some areas less susceptible to wildfire.
Recreational Opportunities
In addition to the environmental benefits, forests also give us great places to pursue recreational activities. In fact, studies have shown that our forests may even provide us with real health benefits. Even a simple walk through the woods has been shown to reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure and improve sleep! But beyond providing a relaxing atmosphere, the forest air can even help our immune systems. How? Well, when we breathe in the forest air we are also breathing in phytoncides that are produced by plants. These phytoncides help plants fight disease and increase the number of NK (natural killer) white blood cells in humans making the population less susceptible to viruses.
Filter This
Many of us are fortunate enough to spend a lot of time amongst the trees. Next time you're in the woods take a second to think about how important these places are and how they make our lives better in so many ways—then, tell a friend. Happy World Forestry Day!
Gene Dempsey, City Forester
Office of Sustainability
Office - (954) 828-5785  Fax - (954) 828-4745