by Whit Gibbons

April 8, 2012

Did you miss World Forestry Day this year? I did. It was celebrated on March 21, but I feel confident I am not alone in being unaware that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization designated a day to remind the public of the importance of forestry programs around the globe. The date coincides with the spring equinox, when forests begin to dominate vast portions of the landscape in the Northern Hemisphere.

According to an article by Craig Rawlings, president and CEO of Forest Business Network, in 1971 the General Assembly of the European Confederation of Agriculture proposed setting aside "one day to celebrate the world's forests and all that they offer for 'protection, production, and recreation.'" Rawlings lists 24 different ways that our lives are improved through proper forest management and the existence of healthy forests. Collectively the list brings awareness to how important forests are for our nation and the world.

Without a doubt the first two items on the list are important to many people: (1) forests produce safe, durable products and (2) those products are typically biodegradable and recyclable. Our landfills need a break, and forest products bring much needed relief by being environmentally friendly.

Additional points have to do with how forests function, noting that they help "improve air quality" and "sequester carbon from the atmosphere." That air in a forest is healthier to breathe than air in a city, with its airborne industrial waste and automotive exhausts, is indisputable. Plus the carbon that trees store is not getting into the atmosphere and adding to the accumulation of greenhouse gases.

Several items on the list relate to the ecologically important ways in which forest management can create healthy ecosystems. Forests serve many purposes, including providing habitat for native wildlife and recreational opportunities for people. The value of forests in ensuring that natural levels of regional biodiversity are maintained cannot be overstated. The same can be said for the assertion that forests provide "beautiful landscapes and scenic vistas." The peace and solitude that a person can find deep in a forest cannot be measured in economic terms. It is, as the ad says, "priceless." Camping, hiking, and bird watching are forms of outdoor recreation that can be enjoyed almost year-round most places--but not without healthy forests. Likewise, sport hunting is a national enterprise that relies on having intact, unfragmented forests that are properly managed for compatibility with multiuse purposes.

We generally envision forests as being far removed from cities, but the article addresses the importance of urban forestry, which focuses on maintaining functional forests within cities themselves. Green spaces within urban areas help maintain some level of environmental integrity for many local, nonmigratory species of wildlife, whereas a wide variety of birds and insects benefit from having forest patches along a migratory route. Properly managed urban forests can also serve as parks and recreational areas for local communities. According to the article, the U.S. Forest Service reports that trees in urban areas now constitute almost one-fourth of the tree cover of the approximately 300 billion trees in the 48 contiguous states.

We also need to be aware that forest communities can vary considerably from one region to another and the diversity is extraordinary. Spruce-fir, beech-maple, cypress-gum, turkey oak-longleaf pine, mesquite, redwood, and sequoia forests are but a few of the major types found in this country alone. Each is important in its own right and efforts to maintain our forests and replenish those that were damaged or destroyed during the last century are worthwhile.

Few people would disagree that healthy forests are an environmental feature we need to protect and preserve wherever they naturally occur. To help achieve that goal, March 21 has been designated as World Forestry Day. Though I missed it this year, I plan to take notice next year. Because celebrating forests on a particular day will raise public awareness of their importance, and over time people will begin to appreciate forests and forestry programs throughout the year.

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