International Day of Forests: Trees Matter

You close your eyes and hear the twitter of bird songs high above you. A twig snaps in the distance, and you hear the scurry of a small critter returning to the safety of its home. Your skin prickles as a cool breeze brings the fresh scent of lichen and wet leaves. You’re in the forest, miles away from suburban sprawl and light years away from the worries of the world. Today is International Day of Forests, a day to appreciate our forests and understand their impact on you, our society, and the world.

In 2012, the UN designated March 21 the International Day of Forests. It’s a day to celebrate forests and raise awareness about the importance of all types of forests around the globe. This year, the theme for International Day of Forests is Forests and Education—Learn to Love Forests! We recognize how healthy trees and forests are crucial for our future, and how managing them is key to addressing climate change, economic development, and environmental sustainability.

Rohingya refugees fell trees and flatten the hills to make houses and provide firewood in Palongkhali, Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar. © 2017 Md Shahnewaz Khan, Courtesy of Photoshare

Forests are some of the most ecologically and biologically diverse places on the planet. They cover 31% of the land area on Earth, and they provide the essential elements to our wellbeing: clean air, water, and soil. Forests also provide a home for 80% of the Earth’s terrestrial animals and plants.

Between 1990 and 2016, the world lost 502,000 square miles of forest—an area larger than South Africa. Deforestation—due to agriculture, mining, grazing of livestock, and drilling—is the second largest source of anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Forest water cycles begin as moisture from the ocean that then falls as rain over the forests. The dense flora drinks up this water and releases it back into the atmosphere through its leaves. This is an endless cycle. Without it, agriculture is disrupted, clean drinking water is jeopardized, and forests dry out, harming the biodiversity that resides in them.

Soil erosion is another side effect of deforestation. Without the tree cover to absorb rain, water flows uninhibited along the forest floor, leading to landslides, floods, and other natural disasters. Other causes of soil erosion include farming and other human land uses. Erosion leads to almost 36 billion tons of soil lost every year.

One in six people—approximately 1.25 billion, according to WWF—relies on forests for food security, fuel, shelter, water, and livelihoods. And for those living in or near forests, agriculture and forest goods and services—such as timber—are often their pathways out of poverty.

By contrast, for many of us, forests almost seem theoretical—far away from urban areas and our day-to-day lives. Out of sight, out of mind. It is easy to forget the environmental, sociological, and future consequences that deforestation can lead to. When we restore forests we not only protect the livelihoods of those living near forests, but we also reduce carbon emissions and save biodiversity for future generations.

This year, the theme for International Day of Forests is Forests and Education—Learn to Love Forests! Take some time today to learn more about forests and how you can help them. Here are a few things you may be able to do today:

  • Plant a tree
  • Visit a forest or park
  • Visit a natural history museum
  • Share what you learned with a friend
  • Do the activities in Population Education’s Forests unit

Remember what it is like to be among the majesty of nature. What are you going to do this International Day of Forests?

The remains of a forest in Lam Dong, Vietnam, cut down for timber and the land now cultivated for agriculture. © 2016 Lê Minh Quát, Courtesy of Photoshare

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