As a child growing up in rural Southwest Virginia one of the first things I remember is an overwhelming love of being outdoors. As soon as I was old enough to walk I was off to explore the forest. I never grew tired of the natural beauty and the occasional glimpse of wildlife whose home I was visiting. It seemed to me that there was nothing closer to God than being close to nature.
Despite all of the natural beauty the forest has to offer it seems that we “can not see the (importance of) the forest for the trees.”” Deforestation, mountain top mining, and forest fires caused by human carelessness are just a few examples of our failure to respect the forest we depend on for survival.
It is well known that plants, including in large part the forest, produce the oxygen that we need to survive. However, the forest performs many other important functions.
A wide range of medicines are derived from plants found in the forest, some remain the knowledge of indigenous people while others are routinely used in conventional medicine.
Carbon released into the atmosphere is a major contributor to the “green house affect” and therefore global warming. A healthy tree can absorb approximately 13 pounds of carbon per year. Slowing or ending deforestation combined with reforestation could play an important role in slowing global warming.
In most cases the forest plays only a modest role in adding to rainfall by contributing to the evaporation of water, however in some regions of the Amazon basin up to 50% of the water vapor leading to rainfall is believed to be recycled from the forest.
The interception of rain by the forest as it falls greatly reduces surface run off, natural debris on the forest floor further decreases the run off allowing for ground absorption and reducing the potential for flooding. A study conducted in Salt Lake City of the effects of an urban forest on runoff provided some insight into the impact this process can have. Measurements taken during a 12-hour storm producing 1 inch of rain found a 17% or 1.3 million gallon reduction in runoff resulting from urban forestry. Increasing the size or the number of urban forest can increase these results.
The results of another experiment in urban forestry prompted the city of Chicago to spend $10 million to plant 20,000 trees. The decision was made after Kuo and Sullivan, two University of Illinois researchers, conducted a study into the effects of trees on the residents of the Robert Taylor Housing Project. They compared the social behavior of those who lived in close proximity to trees to those who did not. The study found that the presents of trees reduced the number of child abuse cases, domestic violence complaints, and conflicts involving physical violence. The study also found that those who lived in close proximity to trees had significantly better relations with their neighbors. Researchers believe that the presence of trees provides an increased since of safety and wellbeing which has a calming affect on the residents.
The forest has a profound affect on our daily lives as it quietly goes about it’s daily routine from behind the scenes. Whether it is a sprawling national forest or a small urban forest we should remember to show our respect by caring for and protecting it.