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    10 Neat Things About Forests

    By By Dorothy Dobbie
    November 27, 2013, 5:58:15 AM EST

    1. Bathing in trees. Shinrin-yoku is the Japanese term for forest bathing. This is the name given for the healing effects of a walk in the forest. According to studies done in Japan, allelochemicals, with healing impacts similar to those in aroma therapy and produced by trees, saturate the air, bathing you in their positive substances as you proceed.


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    2. Let's get physical. While shinrin-yoku has definite psychological and mental benefits, especially against stress, the forest also has the power to prevent and even heal a large number of physical ailments; cancers, blood pressure and heart rate, to name a few, are all affected by adiponectin, a hormone that is associated with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. On the psychological side, benefits include a reduction of anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue and emotional confusion.

    3. A shrinking reach. Forests cover about 30 percent of the world's land mass, down from 50 percent. Of that 30 percent, 20 percent is intact, never-harvested forest. About 75 percent of this intact forest is found in the three countries: Canada, Russia and Brazil. In Canada, 90 percent of its forests are publicly owned, but 50 percent of that is allocated for logging. Only 8 percent of Canada's forests are on the preserved list.

    4. See how they grow. There are many layers to a forest: in southern forests at the top is the emergent layer where the giants reach for the sun, then the overstorey or canopy. Under that is the understorey made up of several other layers. In some forests, there is a layer of smaller trees that like to grow under the protection of the giants. Beneath that is the shrub layer, then the herb layer where woodland flowers and plants dwell, then beneath that the moss layer and finally, at the very bottom, are the soil microbes (which number in the billions).

    5. Beyond human healing. Forests store carbon, help regulate climate, purify water and mitigate floods. They contain 90 percent of the biodiversity on land. They provide a habitat for organisms from the microscopic to the mammoth. They conserve and make soil through the action of shedding herbaceous materials, such as leaves (this detritus on the forest floor is called "duff"). They monitor and mediate the flow of water.

    6. Not all forests are the same. There are many types of forest, the preponderate being the rain forests that exist between 10 degrees south and north of the equator; the boreal forests filled with broadleaf trees (angiosperms) and conifers and needleleaf trees (gymnosperms) and the taiga of the far north containing pine, spruce, larch and birch. There are also the montane or mountain forests populated mainly by pines and birch, depending on the elevation and the mixed forests of oak, beech, maples, birches, pines, firs and spruces. In the Southern Hemisphere, there are the nothofagus forests containing mainly southern beeches and eucalyptus. These are the forests that writers love to depict, where ancient and giant trees are covered in moss.

    7. A forest by any other name would still be a forest. The word forest comes from the French forêt and meaning "land covered by trees." However, the word was also used to describe the king's hunting grounds. In old English, the word was wood, woodland, weald, holt (a small wood or a copse) and frith. Frith had many meanings, one of them being the word used to describe a state of peace (ancient shades of shinrin-yoku?). Frith was also the name given to one of William the Conqueror's royal forests.

    8. The effective propaganda of Smoky Bear.

    "Only YOU can prevent forest fires!" accused the iconic Smokey Bear, blazing his finger-pointing and stern message into the brains of every kid in North America from 1944 onward. Nonsensical as the message is in reality (lightning is the number one cause of forest fires, followed by volcanoes, sparks from falling rocks, spontaneous combustion - as in peat fires, burning coal seams and finally, humans), it stuck.

    9. Under the YOU. When it comes to human intervention in fires, the hierarchy of blame is as follows: arson, cigarettes, equipment sparks, power line arcs and slash-and-burn clearing.

    10. Setting the world on fire - on purpose. From 1908 and until the 1970s, the emphasis in wildfire management was on prevention, where we humans were seen as both perpetrators and problem solvers. During the 1970s, ideas began to shift and by the 1980s prescribed burning took on importance as a way to both control wildfire outbreaks and to manage certain wilderness resources. Today, the thinking is that fires as a critical natural process should be integrated into land management practices. This means controlled burns where the rate of burn, the intensity and the flame length can be controlled - kind of tough to do near populations.

    Dorothy Dobbie has been doing these articles for years. She is the owner of www.localgardener.net

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