14 Reasons Why Forests Are Important
From subalpine conifer forests to lush tropical rainforests, forests cover nearly one-third of the earth’s land surface. But as people burn and chop down massive amounts of trees, this forest coverage is rapidly dwindling. In 2020, a football field-sized area of tropical forest was lost every four seconds. As our forests disappear, it has a devastating ripple effect on people, wildlife, and the planet.
There are so many reasons why we should conserve our forests and keep them standing. Read on to discover 14 of the incredible benefits that forests provide and consider protecting them by offsetting your carbon footprint!
1. Forests provide essential resources
Forests provide many of the resources that we use in our daily lives. Just look around your house – how many things are made from wood or other forest products? Many common household items such as furniture and books are derived from forest resources. What about your floors, doors, or siding? Timber is the primary material used to construct homes in many parts of the world. Not to mention, many families rely on wood fuel to heat their homes.
2. Are a haven of biodiversity
Forests are so much more than a bunch of trees! From orangutans swinging in the treetops to ants marching along the forest floor, these complex ecosystems are full of life. In fact, it is estimated that forests are home to 80% of the world’s land-based plant and animal species. The lives of these organisms are all interconnected. Even the dead leaves that litter the forest floor have an important ecological role of replenishing the soil nutrients that plants need to grow. Below the ground, trees use a network of fungi to share nutrients with each other. Because life in the forest is so interdependent, it throws off the balance of the entire ecosystem when one part is lost.
3. Support jobs
Forests also provide employment and generate income for millions of people worldwide. Many types of jobs depend on forests and their resources, from loggers and construction workers to trekking guides and forest rangers.
4. Sustain rural livelihoods
While we all depend on forests in one way or another, it is estimated that about 350 million people around the world live within or near to forests and are highly dependent on them for their livelihoods. This includes millions of indigenous people who are almost entirely dependent on forests for their subsistence and survival.
5. Provide food security and nutrition
For many rural communities, forests are their neighborhood “grocery stores.” Forests are an excellent place to forage for wild foods such as berries, mushrooms, leaves, tubers, and nuts; and the wild animals that live in forests are an important source of protein. Forests also play an essential role in food preparation since about one-third of the world’s population uses wood fuel for cooking.
6. Fight climate change
Forests are natural carbon sinks. How we interact with them can either slow or exacerbate the climate crisis. As trees and other plants grow, they absorb carbon dioxide and store it in their trunks, roots, branches, and soils. Each year, the world’s forests absorb 16 billion metric tons of CO2 – that’s more than 40% of global fossil fuel emissions. However, if forests are destroyed then they can actually worsen climate change by releasing more carbon than they absorb
7. Clean the air
Every year, more than four million people die as a result of outdoor air pollution. Forests help to keep people healthy by purifying the air that we breathe. In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide, trees remove other harmful pollutants from the air and pump out oxygen.
8. Protect us from natural disasters
Forests also keep us safe by defending against natural hazards. Trees and other plants help prevent landslides by holding the soil in place and lessening the force of rain on the ground. Similarly, mangrove forests stabilize shorelines and reduce the power of waves. As such, they act as a natural buffer, protecting coastal communities from the damaging effects of storms and tsunamis.
9. Are playgrounds for recreation
Beyond the necessities, forests are also a source of fun, excitement, and inspiration. Each year, about 8 billion visitors explore the world’s national parks and other protected areas, many of which are forested. From hiking to ziplining to mountain biking, forests are a destination for epic adventures.
10. Produce life-saving medicines
Forests are often referred to as “nature’s medicine cabinet.” And for good reason. Forests are the source of many ingredients that are used to create drugs to treat malaria, cancer, and other diseases. In fact, more than a quarter of modern medicines are derived from tropical forest plants. On the flip-side, when humans destroy forest habitats it can lead to the spread of zoonotic diseases.
11. Inspire and heal us
Forests also promote personal well-being and heal the soul. There’s something special about staying in an ecolodge overlooking a lush jungle, walking through a grove of golden aspens, or spotting a sloth up high in the canopy. Spending time in forests helps us to unwind, inspires creativity, and leads people to develop a greater appreciation for the environment.
12. Help generate rainfall
Forests influence the water cycle through a process called transpiration. Trees absorb water through their roots which is later released as water vapor from their leaves. This water vapor accumulates into clouds until it falls down again as rain, snow, or hail. Though evaporation from water bodies accounts for the vast majority of moisture in the atmosphere, transpiration from plants is still significant. For example, a large oak tree can give off 40,000 gallons (151,000 liters) per year.
13. Purify water
Forests play an important role in keeping our rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans healthy. Trees and other vegetation improve water quality by reducing soil erosion, decreasing stormwater runoff, and filtering out sediments and chemical pollutants.
14. Hold spiritual and cultural value
Forests and their resources hold significance in many cultures and religions. While some patches of forest are considered to be sacred places, others may serve as venues for cultural events or ceremonies. Specific trees, plants, and animals bear symbolic meaning in certain cultures and are often represented in art, folklore, and traditional practices.