What Is a Forest For?

May 29, 2020

In addition to providing habitat for plants and animals, the boreal forest supports people's cultural, spiritual, and aesthetic needs.Announcements!

Reminder that both the giveaway and the free signed bookplate offer expire June 12, so if you haven’t taken advantage of those yet, make sure you do.

And now, on to this week’s instalment of Forest Friday!

What is a Forest For?

When I was writing The Boreal Forest, one of my goals was to shine some light on ecological processes – by showing how a forest works, I could hopefully show what a forest is for… by which I mean, why do we need forests anyway?

The obvious answer is that forests provide habitat for animals. Billions of birds live in or visit the boreal forest, and that’s just birds – there are mammals and reptiles and fish and insects and spiders and, well, an endless list of other critters both great and small (ask me about soil bacteria!). In other words, the boreal forest matters because of the biodiversity of plants and animals that call the biome home – many of which live nowhere else on earth.

The forest matters to people, too. In my first Forest Friday post, I mentioned a few of the many, many Indigenous nations that live in boreal forests around the world. There are also millions of non-Indigenous people within the biome… and the forest influences the quality of life of billions of others across the globe who will never take a walk in these particular woods. How? Through functions that scientists call “ecosystem services”:

  • Supporting nutrient cycling and soil formation, allowing plants to grow
  • Primary production – “science speak” for the plant photosynthesis that converts sunlight into chemical energy… also known as “food.” That includes food for animals, but also wild food products like mushrooms, berries, and medicinal plants
  • Primary production also leads to trees, which lead to lumber and a huge range of wood and paper products that are… pretty darn essential to modern life
  • Cleaning water, preventing flooding, slowing erosion
  • Climate regulation
    • During photosynthesis, plants remove CO2 from the air, releasing oxygen. That reduces the concentration of greenhouse gases in the air, but is also crucial to our ability to keep breathing
    • Plants convert CO2 to biomass (living plant matter), and trees especially can trap that carbon for years
    • Enormous amounts of carbon are also stored in forest soils, peat, and permafrost, a third way the biome slows climate change
    • The boreal forest also influences local weather patterns and helps break down ozone in the air (ozone is awesome high up in the atmosphere, but pretty dangerous down low)

That’s a LOT of reasons why the boreal biome matters to all life on Earth. But there’s one more. It’s not economic or environmental – it’s cultural, spiritual, aesthetic, educational, recreational…. it’s all of the important, intangible benefits that a living forest offers to the human heart, mind, and soul. If not the most important reason to protect this vast and vital wilderness, definitely the most personal.

So let’s get personal today. What does the boreal forest mean to you? Share your thoughts, feelings, and encounters with boreal wildlife in the comments – I would LOVE to hear your stories.

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2 Comments on ‘What Is a Forest For?’

  1. This is great! I’m going to share for my friends who have been home-schooling. Most have broken for the summer, but they’re still stuck at home with kids! LOL

    Reply | 
    1. I am so amazed by parents that are managing to keep their families not only safe and fed but still learning during all of this! I hope that in some small way, my blog is a help. Thank you!

      Reply | 

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