Collaborating with Your Forest
by Gloria Flora
ARE YOU ONE OF THE BLESSED HUMANS who live near or within a forest you steward? Lucky you!
You are in a partnership that has boundless benefits. But that also confers a responsibility to work in collaboration with your forest for the benefit of its network of life, including yours.
Before we take a look under the hood at the nuts and bolts of human-forest ecosystem collaboration, context is required.
And if learning engaged humility is on your bucket list, you are in the right place as we pay homage to the towering denizens of the forest.
Research and human experience confirm that trees provide: shade, nutrients, humidity control, food, shelter, nesting platforms, fodder, fiber, fuel, building materials, mitigation of noise, toxins and light pollution, privacy, water cleansing and weather management as well as inspiration and beauty. Trees propagate, share resources, communicate and release a plethora of nutrients, even for decades after death.
Not bad for starting with nothing but a seed, air, water and sunlight, and help from a formidable list of minute nonhuman benefactors!
These magnificent structures, miracles of quantum physics, work at the most elemental level, converting energy to matter. Natural disasters have underscored that trees hold soil, hillsides and deltas in place preventing erosion and flash flooding. Trees gird coastlines, forming bastions against inland flooding from storm surges while mitigating sea level rise.
Trees suck carbon dioxide out of the air, store it and in return, release pure oxygen. One large tree can remove 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually and
supply fresh air for a family of four—every day!
If that weren’t enough, these forest benefactors redistribute soil moisture to aid adjacent plants, communicate through mycelial threads and aerosol chemicals – many we haven’t even named or described yet. Trees develop defenses against insect and diseases and share their strategies with other trees.
The psychological benefits of trees, many just recently understood and acknowledged by mainstream science, are myriad. A single hour walk in a forest can reduce your cortisol levels for a week. In inner cities, even being able to see trees from a residence reduces domestic violence by 40%. In short we become better, happier people in the presence of
Trees play major roles in producing the free benefits of nature, that humans cannot reasonably emulate, but upon which our lives depend, ecosystem services. Ecosystems services are key to creating a decision framework for what you should and shouldn’t do in a forest.
The magnificence of trees humbles us to the size of a small ant, but they are just a part of the complex matrix of life in these gatherings we call forests. What goes on in a forest at every level—ground, stem and canopy—is equally amazing. Forests teem with life, sustain themselves and all their individual inhabitants, who in turn, work together to promote and sustain life on the planet.
We citizens of the forest, who respect and embody permaculture ethics, take these forest lessons to heart. We understand we need to collaborate with the forest biomimetically, to promote and sustain life with beauty, cooperation and communication so all can thrive, and where all so-called wastes become resources for rebuilding.
Getting to Know Your Forest
Once we grasp the magic of forests, we know where we stand under that canopy of green: we’re an influential part of the community who needs to be a positive influence. Key questions we need to ask:
1. How do I get to know my forest better?
2. Where has my forest been and where is it going?
3. Can I introduce change and still protect and promote ecosystem services?
4. Can I add benefits that complement the health and well-being of other plants, animals (wild and domestic) and my family?
5. How do I apply biomimetic solutions, that is, what Nature does?
Each of these is worthy of a lengthy discussion. But let’s look at a few tips to get started.