Why Woods Matter

Why Woods Matter

As an area of concentrated poverty, Ward 8 has many challenges and unmet needs. With so many residents facing more immediate challenges, like hunger, homelessness, illness, addiction and violence, it is reasonable to ask: Why should we care about the forests?  

Because 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 food we eat, the weather we experience, and all the sights, sounds and smells we encounter daily. We cannot care for and protect one another without guarding the health of the planet on which our survival depends.

Environmental benefits of urban forests

Even in the city, maybe especially in the city, we need forests. Trees clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide  and emitting oxygen. They lower summer temperatures by promoting evaporation and providing shade.  They muffle the noise from roadways, train tracks, and industrial facilities. 

Trees prevent erosion, and their root networks filter contaminants from stormwater runoff. They act like sponges, 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

Like our lived experiences, scientific research attests to the benefits of regular contact with nature.  Tree cover associates with lower crime rates. People  who regularly engage in outdoor recreation experience fewer health problems. Children who play in nature exhibit less impulsive behavior. Hospital patients who can see trees out their windows have been shown to recover faster.

Environmental Racism

Access to a clean environment too often depends on race and class privilege. Environmental racism refers to a pattern in which trash, pollution and industry are concentrated in communities of color and low-income communities. In Washington, DC, the inequity is striking: The city’s predominantly Black south and east sides are home to a water treatment plant, a former power plant, a former landfill, and other toxic legacy sites. The wealthy and mostly white west side contains no industrial sites.   

Environmental racism applies to parks, too. 

Ward 8 is unusual among low-income areas in that it is blessed with more than 500 acres of forested parkland.  Yet the parks’ poor condition speaks to disparity. They lack trail access, trash carpets their ground, huge areas are decimated by invasive vines, and there are no public programs. 

By contrast, in Rock Creek Park, which runs through majority-white Northwest DC, 32 miles of well-maintained trails draw thousands of  hikers and runners each day.  Illegal dumping is rare, and litter is frequently picked up. Invasive plants, while present, do not dominate the forest.   

Forests for All

The work of Ward 8 Woods is to achieve forest equity. We believe all people – especially those who have experienced oppression and trauma – have a right to clean, accessible parks. We envision a future in which Ward 8 residents enjoy the same access to their forests as others have.

© 2023 Ward 8 Woods Conservancy. All Rights Reserved.