13 June 2013


"I think that I shall never see
a poem as lovely as a tree."
Trees, by Joyce Kilmer

It's no secret that most humans derive pleasure from seeing or being among trees.  They appeal to our aesthetics, our spirituality, our peace of mind.  Not to mention supplying us with oxygen as they respire.

New studies have shown that not only are more trees good for our health, fewer trees degrade our health.  With more trees, "people recover faster from surgery, and take fewer drugs if their hospital room has a view of trees .... [and] mothers with more trees around their homes are less likely to have underweight babies.  It's been shown that if you put people in a natural environment, it can reduce their blood pressure, heart rate, and other measures of stress.  Obviously we also know that trees can improve air quality."

A recent infestation of a beetle called the emerald ash borer in the northeastern U.S., and the resulting deaths of one hundred million trees, provided the evidence that with fewer trees, there are "increased rates of [human] death from cardiovascular and respiratory mortality in the counties with emerald ash borer .... the effect got bigger the longer you had the infestation .... [the effect] was repeated over and over again in places with very different demographic make-ups .... places with high education, with low education, with great income, with low income, with different racial makeups."

So what is the take-home message?  "Maybe we want to start thinking of trees as part of our public health infrastructure.  Not only do they do the things we would expect like shade our houses and make our neighborhoods more beautiful, but maybe they do something more fundamental.  Maybe trees are not only essential for the natural environment but just as essential for our well-being.  That's the message for public health officials.

"For ordinary people ~ get involved in planting trees.  In most cities, either the city itself or nonprofits will help with tree planting efforts.  Also spend time in the natural environment.  I think people intuitively know that.  There's a reason that we like to go walk in the woods or that we like to spend time in the park."

I've long been intimately familiar with the feeling of well-being that comes with walking among trees.  My home town on the northern Montana plains was an arboreal oasis surrounded by treeless prairie and farmland.  Thankfully my family liked to spend time in nearby Glacier National Park, and my boy scout troop similarly enjoyed numerous campouts in various parts of the Rocky Mountains.  Of all the places I've lived or visited the ones which set me most at ease were forested ~ higher elevations in the desert Southwest, the coastal plain of the Southeast, the deciduous canopy in the Northeast, and the temperate rain forest of the Pacific Northwest.

We know that trees provide much more than beauty and shade.  They are essential to our physical and emotional health.  More trees means better health for the environment and for all its residents ~ animals, birds, reptiles, insect, and humans.

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