A WWF report connects forest health to people

Tall trees landscape with small man climbing one

Forests are vital. We’ve long known about their importance to the health of our planet, but do they matter to human health too?

In WWF’s new Vitality of Forests report, researchers and forest specialists assembled existing evidence across multiple disciplines to demonstrate the critical relationships between forests and the health and well-being of people.

“We simply can’t afford to treat climate, human health, and biodiversity impacts as separate issues requiring separate solutions,” says report coauthor and WWF-US forests director Annika Terrana. “As society absorbs the costs of climate change and biodiversity loss, what may seem like distant, global issues to some will become increasingly personal and immediate in how they affect our health.”

Ignoring the links between forests and human health can have disastrous effects, especially the outbreak of disease. Here’s a thumbnail of how it happens: We clear the forest, and wildlife gets concentrated in less space, where species are more likely to swap pathogens with each other. The crowding also leads to stress, making them more likely to shed viruses. Loss of forest cover means greater exposure of wildlife to humans or their domesticated animals and, consequently, increased chances of disease spillover from wildlife to people.

The report shows that thriving forests contribute to human health. Forests provide nutrient-dense foods to forest-adjacent communities; they can help protect people from natural hazards like flooding and extreme heat; and they provide livelihoods for an estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide.

Craig Beatty, WWF forests manager of research and strategy and lead author of the report, says, “We’ve known we need forests to address climate change and prevent wildlife extinctions. This report articulates how forests are connected to human health; it gives us a road map to understand forests and public health together.”

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