When you drive down the road enjoying the beauty of our hills and mountains covered with trees, you just used one the forest’s many benefits: its natural beauty, called aesthetics by the fancy word bunch. And it cost you nothing. So without realizing it you became indebted to those folks who own that hilly land. Besides beauty, there are lots of other benefits we enjoy because the forest landowner chose to own and leave a forest a forest. Here are a few:
Clean water: Well water, streams, rivers, and lakes would be full of soil sediment if it weren’t for the forest that slows rain impact, absorbs it for slow release, and keeps soil bound up with a massive root system.
Wildlife refuge: Most folks get a thrill out of seeing a deer or some turkeys grazing along the road. Most of our wildfire species wholly or partially depend on the forest for food, cover, to rear young, or just to survive.
Carbon sequestration: This social benefit is relatively new. Trees are enormous plants that take in massive amounts of carbon dioxide and lock it up by making wood out of it. Oxygen is a byproduct of this process and is released back into the atmosphere for all of us to breathe. Trees have been doing this since creation, but absorbing carbon has taken on more importance these days due to the concern over global warming and greenhouse gases. So forest landowners are providing another social good that is presently free, except for them. That may be changing as world governments develop policies that may allow forest landowners to sell “carbon credits” to keep the forest intact to absorb greenhouse gas emissions.
So, the next time you enjoy a forested view, see a squirrel run for cover, take a deep breath of oxygenated air, or drink a glass of clear water, remember to give thanks both to our maker and the owners and caretakers of the forest. If you are a forest landowner, take pride in the social benefits you provide. But also be aware that the forest will live beyond your lifetime, and that it is important to be a good steward while you are here and in charge of it. To learn how to be a good steward, contact your local state forestry office.