As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the nation, our healthcare workers, first responders and essential workers are heroically keeping the nation afloat. But there’s one underlying constant, or force if you will, that touches and protects us all. It’s the unsung hero: the forest.
Trees and forests are the foundation of many essential, everyday items, a key to our health and quality of life and a backbone to our economy and workforce.
Labeled an essential industry, forestry provides diapers that clothe newborns at home, the sustainable packaging for our food, the boxes that contain items ordered by vulnerable people staying home so they don’t risk exposure.
“The forest products industry supplies basic necessities ranging from diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, paper cups and plates to panels, lumber, transmission poles, pallets and packaging used to transport over 90% of all goods, foods and medical supplies so desperately needed during these critical times,” said Rob Hughes, executive director of the Texas Forestry Association.
“Sometimes we take the essentials the forests and the forestry industry provide for granted,” said Tom Boggus, Texas state forester and director of Texas A&M Forest Service. “But we all felt its stark absence when the shelves were empty of toilet paper.”
Beyond the everyday items, forestry also provides the framework of protection for those on the front lines as masks and other personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and first responders.
“In turbulent markets, long-term forestland investments are less cyclical than stocks and bonds because they serve a diversified set of industries,” said Aaron Stottlemeyer, Texas A&M Forest Service forest resource analyst.
The forest sector’s industry output had a $36.7 billion direct, indirect and induced impact on the state’s economy, according to Texas A&M Forest Service’s 2019 Texas Economic Impact Report.
Every dollar generated in the sector contributed an additional 94 cents to the rest of the state economy.
The forest sector also supported more than 168,190 jobs; every job created in the sector resulted in another 1.49 jobs in the state ¾ many labeled as essential infrastructure workers by the Texas Department of Agriculture.
“Texas forests also benefit society simply by existing; they provide many life-sustaining benefits, or ecosystem services,” said Hughes Simpson, Texas A&M Forest Service’s forest systems department head.
“This includes regulating the climate, purifying drinking water supplies, filtering air pollutants, providing habitat for wildlife, and opportunities to recreate for millions of Texans. Collectively, these services are valued at almost $93 billion annually.”
While isolation and social distancing decrease our susceptibility to COVID-19 exposure, they may also increase stress and anxiety. One way to relieve stress, while still practicing safe social distancing, is to get out among the trees and forests.
Research shows exposure to forests decreases mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring one’s mind as well as providing a sense of security.
“This connection between trees and people is intricate, yet powerful,” said Gretchen Riley, Texas A&M Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Partnership coordinator. “Being around trees and forests helps our minds find rest while encouraging physical engagement, all while subtly purifying the environment.”
Forests help us heal
The forests will continue to be with us as we heal. Trees filter pollution out of the air that we breathe, decreasing the risk of common respiratory illnesses. And patients with views of trees recover faster than patients without a view of trees.
“The love of the forests is not new for most of us. In many cases, forests are the foundation of the sense of place we call home. Beyond pretty and a place, knowing they actually make us feel better and be better makes trees and forests especially cherished these days,” said Riley. “Caring for trees and forests has never been more important because they also care for us. Healthy trees make healthy lives.”
So, these benefits can be found not just in a forest far, far away. No matter where you are, the forest is with you—through COVID-19 and beyond.
For more information about the link between health and trees, visit https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/healthytreeshealthylives/.