Conserving our forests

Friday, March 01, 2013

“I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.” These are the opening lines to Joyce Kilmer’s poem Trees. With all due respect to the beloved poem, one of the few things better than a tree is a collection of trees – also known as a forest. Forests provide a diversity of trees, plants, wildlife, and services that is so rich that it is almost impossible to assign a value to them.

Note I said value, not price. We often place a price figure on forests that only includes the market value of the forest wood that can be harvested and sold. This is a classic case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. We either ignore or don’t understand the value of the balance of services that a forest provides. Forests clean our air and filter our water. They provide flood control and help prevent mudslides. Forests provide oxygen and capture and store carbon dioxide. And they provide homes for many species. These systems have had hundreds, thousands, or millions of years of evolution to develop a rich and sustainable relationship between all the plant and animal species that reside in the forest. We can get much more value out of a forest by understanding it, protecting it, and sustainably utilizing the services it provides.

A bobcat at the edge of the woods

A bobcat at the edge of the woods

Tree forests now cover less than 10% of the earth’s surface (which is about 30% of the total land area). That’s down from about 50% of the land area before modern agriculture and industrialization began to eat away at the forest. Clearly, we haven’t understood the value of the forest yet.

I own 2.2 acres (0.9 hectares) of increasingly rare native forest in the Dallas, Texas area. My house occupies a small footprint and the rest of the space is left to nature. A few years ago I even argued against higher density zoning that would have allowed me to sell one acre for a large profit. The forest, and the beauty and services it provides, is worth more than money. Besides, it already provides a home to many species beyond humans. Our forest is priceless, just like all the other forests remaining around the world. Here are a few photos of our forest and our friends who live there.

This entry was written by Senior ECPA FellowPaul Westbrook in collaboration with theEnergy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) Clearinghouse and was originally posted in Global Conversations. See original post, here.