What Is a Forest?
Why Are They So Important?

January 28th, 2020

Quite simply a forest is a large area predominantly covered with trees. The United Nations provides an even more specific definition: “Land spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 meters and a canopy cover of more than 10 percent, or trees able to reach these thresholds in situ.” According to their estimates, forests occupy about 30% of the earth’s land. Over 300 million people live in forests and 1.6 billion depend on them for their livelihoods (that’s over 20% of the world’s population!). Domestically, forests comprise about 33% of the land area or roughly 760 million acres. And interestingly enough, that number in the US has stayed relatively constant for the past 100 years.

Forests are critical to the health and wellbeing of our planet and society as a whole. They serve as sources of food and medicine, lumber for building homes and businesses, fuel for cooking and heating, home for biodiversity, places of recreation, natural aqueducts, carbon sinks, air purifiers, and so much more.

1Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Take medicine for instance: 25% of all medicine are derived from plants and trees. The next time you have an ache and reach for the bottle of aspirin, thank the willow tree.

And the air: for every 100 trees, 53 tons of carbon dioxide and 430 pounds of other air pollutants are removed from the environment each year. The next time you’re out in the woods, take a few deep breaths and hug a tree in appreciation.

And water: more than half of the drinking water in the US originates in forests. And they also act as water filters, purifying the water before releasing it. This cleansing process removes potentially harmful bacteria, nitrates, phosphates, and other contaminants before the water is released back into the soil and entering groundwater aquifers.

And biodiversity: forests are home to 80% of earth’s terrestrial species, including animals, plants, and insects. Tropical rainforests are considered the most biodiverse, with scientists estimating that over half of all species live there. In the US, the longleaf pine forest is similarly biodiverse. It is home to over 800 species of plants and hundreds of animals, over half of which are found only in the longleaf pine ecosystem. That’s one reason why the Aria® brand is proud to partner with the Longleaf Alliance to help restore the longleaf ecosystem.

The great news about forests is that they are renewable and sustainable. In fact, the number of trees in the US has actually been growing over the past 50+ years. That doesn’t mean that we should slow our efforts to restore threatened or damaged ecosystems; instead, we should continue looking for new ways to reduce consumption and increase efficiency so that we can protect our planet for future generations.