March 21st, 2014 by

By John-Miguel Dalbey

Today is the second annual United Nations International Day of Forests. First observed as an international day on March 21, 2013, this day continues the celebration of forests begun with two previous days:  the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s World Forestry Day, founded in 1971, and Forest Day, convened by the Center for International Forestry Research from 2007-2012.

Forests, such as this rainforest in Honduras, have the highest levels of biodiversity of any terrestrial habitat.

Forests, such as this rainforest in Honduras, have the highest levels of biodiversity of any terrestrial habitat. Credit: Paul Bolstad, University of Minnesota.

According to the UN, today is a day to celebrate all trees and the importance of forests, while bringing together those with an interest in preserving forests and combating climate change. Forests and global climate are very closely intertwined, and preserving forest ecosystems is one of the best means of mitigating climate change. Forests act as carbon sinks, absorbing high amounts of atmospheric carbon — nearly 18 percent of global emissions.

The importance of forests doesn’t stop there. The UN points out that “forests cover one third of the Earth’s land mass, performing vital functions around the world” and that “around 1.6 billion people — including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures — depend on forests for their livelihood.” But forests affect more than just human lives. They provide crucial ecosystem services, such as balancing atmospheric levels of humidity, oxygen and carbon dioxide — services that all of Earth’s inhabitants rely on. Forests, and specifically tropical rainforests, have the highest levels of biodiversity of any terrestrial habitat, containing about 80 percent of land-based species.

Despite all we know about the importance of forests, more than 32 million acres of forest are still lost annually because of fire, logging, farming and desertification, among other causes.

That’s why American Forests coordinates several international forest restoration projects through our Global ReLeaf program each year. In 2013, we had projects in Panama, Honduras, Indonesia, India and Mexico. Stay tuned for the announcement of 2014’s Global ReLeaf projects, which include multiple international efforts, in a few weeks. Celebrate forests with us by helping protect them.