Why Woods Matter
As an area of concentrated poverty, Ward 8 has many challenges and unmet needs. With so many residents facing hunger, homelessness, ill-health, addiction and violence, it is reasonable to ask: Why should we care about the forests?
To answer that question, we must realize that people are not separate from their environment. “The environment” includes all the places where we live, work, and play. It is the air we breathe inside and outside our homes, the water we drink, cook and clean with, the weather we experience, and all the sights, sounds and smells we encounter daily. Polluted air and water make people sick. A dead planet cannot support human life. We cannot begin to care for people if we do not care for the environment.
Environmental benefits of urban forests
Without forests, the earth would not be fit for human life. Trees clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide —the world’s forests store more carbon than exists in the atmosphere— and emitting oxygen. They lower summer temperatures by promoting evaporation and providing shade.
Trees prevent erosion and filter contaminants from stormwater runoff with a network of deep roots. They act like a sponge, soaking up water during floods and slowly releasing it during dry stretches. Urban forests provide habitat for birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fungi.
Human benefits of urban forests
Lived experience and scientific research both attest to the benefits of regular contact with nature. Tree cover is associated with lower crime rates, while litter signals higher rates of crime. Across age groups, those who regularly engage in outdoor recreation experience fewer health problems. Children exhibit less impulsive behavior when they play in nature. Hospital patients who can see trees out their window have even been shown to recover faster.
Access to a clean environment too often depends on racial and class privilege. Environmental racism refers to the pattern of trash and pollution being concentrated in communities of color and low-income communities. In Washington, DC, the inequity is striking: the predominantly Black south and east sides of the city include a water treatment plant, a former power plant, a former landfill, and several other legacy toxic sites. The wealthy and mostly white west side has no industrial sites.
Environmental racism also applies to parks. Rock Creek Park, which runs through the Northwest DC, has 32 miles of well-maintained hiking and biking trails. A well-established and well-funded nonprofit organization does much of the important work that the National Park Service cannot or will not perform, including trash and invasive plant removal, recreational activities, and school programs.
Ward 8, unlike many other low-income areas, is blessed with more than 500 acres of forested parkland. Yet the disparity can still be seen in the condition of these parks: less than one mile of trail, hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash covering the ground, entire areas decimated by invasive vines, and no public programs.
Forests for All
Ward 8 Woods is founded on the conviction that all people -especially those who have been oppressed and marginalized- have a right to clean, accessible parks, including those that offer an immersive forest experience.