Learn Why Forests are so Important

Forests & Importance for the Environment
Outdoorsports6_072502 -- Wes Smittle and Dusty Wissmath fly fishing for small mouth bass on the Potomac River near Point of Rocks, Maryland.

Forests perform crucial functions that benefit all plants and animals — including humans — like filtering pollutants, creating habitat and providing shade.

When Europeans first arrived to the Chesapeake Bay region in the 17th century, they found vast, diverse forests covering 95 percent of the Bay's 64,000-square-mile watershed. Today, forests cover about 58 percent of the watershed, or 24 million acres. While forest conditions have changed over the past 400 years, forests still remain critical to the health of the Bay, its residents and its wildlife.

How Are Forests Important?
Chesapeake Bay forests perform crucial functions that benefit all plants and animals — including humans — such as filtering pollution, creating habitat and providing shade.

Forests Protect Clean Water
Forests are one of the most beneficial land uses for improving and maintaining clean water. Similar to wetlands, forests act as giant sponges that absorb and slowly release pollutants such as nutrients and sediment from stormwater runoff. Trees also remove nitrogen from the air.

Forests store, clean and slowly release about two-thirds of the water that maintains stream flow and replenishes groundwater.

Air pollutants that fall onto forested areas are absorbed into the ground. Pollutants that are not filtered out slowly make their way into local waterways.

Riparian forests that buffer streams significantly reduce the amount of excess nitrogen and phosphorus that enters a water body, sometimes by as much as 30 to 90 percent. Forests currently buffer about 60 percent of the streams and rivers in the Bay watershed.

Forests protect and filter drinking water for 75 percent of the Bay watershed's residents — that's more than 11 million people.

Mature trees provide deep root systems that hold soil in place, helping to stabilize stream banks and reduce erosion.

Forests Provide Habitat for Wildlife
Healthy forests provide food, shelter, nesting sites and safe migration paths for critters in the water and on the land.

Riparian forests shade the water beneath their canopies, maintaining cooler water temperatures in summer, an important factor for spawning fish.

Decaying leaves and wood on the forest floor are also essential links in the Bay food web.

Forests Clean the Air
Forests absorb and trap nitrogen, particulates and other pollutants released into the atmosphere by cars, industries, agriculture and construction. Forests retain more than 85 percent of the nitrogen deposited on them from the air. Trees also produce the oxygen that we breathe.

Forests Support the Region's Economy
Conservatively, Chesapeake forests provide approximately $24 billion each year from ecosystem services like outdoor recreation, carbon sequestration, flood control and wildlife habitat. Forestry, the second largest industry in Pennsylvania and Virginia and the fifth largest in Maryland, supports many of the region's small cities and towns. The forest industry provides 140,000 jobs, $6 billion in income and a total industry output of $22 billion to the Bay watershed economy each year.

Forests Support Outdoor Hobbies and Family Activities
Forests offer us places to reflect and experience natural beauty and solitude. They also foster active outdoor activities like hiking, biking and bird watching.

What Does a Healthy Forest Look Like?
A healthy forest is a complex, interdependent community of plants, animals and soil. Each layer of the forest provides diverse habitats and helps to protect clean water.

The canopy is the forest's top layer. It shades and protects animals and plants below, while also intercepting and slowing rainfall.

Beneath the canopy is the understory, a second layer made up of smaller trees and shrubs. As older trees die and leave gaps in the canopy, younger trees grow to replace them.

The next layer, the forest floor, is populated by vines, grasses, mosses, worms, insects, fungi, bacteria and other small plants and animals. They continually decompose leaves, wood and other organic material that falls to the forest floor so that it may be reused by larger plants. This layer is also a storehouse of nutrients.

The litter on the forest floor protects the soil, the bottom layer of the forest. Healthy forests often contain more living biomass in the soil below ground than on the surface.

Forests information for the Chesapeake Bay Region came from the Chesapeake Bay Program found online at www.chesapeakebay.net

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