By Michelle Werts

Have you ever been in one of those subdivisions where every house looks the same? Or how about have you ever had to eat the same leftovers for several days in a row? In my experience, the first experience leaves me feeling a little creeped out, while the second can become tiresome. As the old cliché goes, variety is the spice of life. The same exact thing is true in nature, which is why the United Nations has declared today the International Day for Biological Diversity. Connecting with the UN’s designation of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation, the theme of this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity is “Water and Biodiversity” — two things that go hand-in-hand, as plants and animals are all part of the water cycle.

Brule Lake, Superior National Forest, Minnesota
Brule Lake, Superior National Forest, Minnesota. Credit: Mr. Moment/Flickr

In ecosystems across the world, health is often predicated on biodiversity, as each plant and animal species has a specific role to play. For instance, a tree or plant’s transpiration (the evaporation of water from its leaves and stems) plays a major role in an area’s humidity and rainfall. As I’m sure you can imagine, forests often contain some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet. In fact, forests are more biologically diverse than any other land-based ecosystem according to the UN, and they protect more than two-thirds of all land-based animal and plant species. Forests, though, also protect aquatic species, which is just one of many fitting connections to this year’s theme of “Water and Biodiversity.”

Water and biodiversity are also two words that come up quite frequently in our 2013 Global ReLeaf projects:

  • In Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, we’re planting 43,000 white, red and jack pines and white spruce to increase biodiversity to an area that has lost a number of its pines to pests. At the same time, we’re planting these trees along riparian areas to help protect the forest’s streams for its diverse fish populations.
  • An elk herd in Valles Caldera, New Mexico
    An elk herd in Valles Caldera, New Mexico. Credit: Larry Lamsa

    Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico was affected by a 2011 wildfire, which is why we’re helping plant 45,000 aspen, bog birch, coyote willow, American plum and other species to restore the area’s Rito des los Indios watershed — an important wildlife habitat.

  • Pisgah National Forest’s North Fork Mills River is eligible for designation by the U.S. government as a Wild and Scenic River, and the North Carolina river also provides drinking water to the surrounding communities. By planting 1,800 trees representing seven different species, we’re helping restore this riparian zone that is also home to a variety of animal species.
  • 2011’s Hurricane Irene tore up the East Coast, causing major flooding in many areas, including Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest. Vegetation along the forest’s White River was devastating, so we’re planting 7,000 trees to help stabilize the river and create a safe environment for its fish and other wildlife.

And the list could go on. Suffice it to say, our work protecting and restoring forests touches on a lot more than just the trees in the forest. But we couldn’t do it without our partners and supporters, so today, let’s celebrate the wonderfully diverse world that we’re all helping protect and create.