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Indicator 6.44: The importance of forests to people

What is the indicator and why is it important?

Forests are important to people for a wide variety of reasons. Research studies have enumerated the breadth of values that people associate with forests. These values are provided, to greater and lesser degrees, by different types of forests, groves of trees, and even by individual trees. The lists suggest a mix of values that extend from consumptive to nonconsumptive uses and include items that relate to economic, ecological, and social benefits.

This indicator provides information on the range of values communities and individuals hold for forests. These values shape the way people view forests, including their behaviors and attitudes toward all aspects of forest management. This indicator can be used to help understand regional or demographic differences in the importance of trees and forests to people and to monitor changes in perception of the importance of trees and forests over time.

Table 44-1: Frequency of mention by categories of importance of trees and forests to individuals and their communities

What does the indicator show?

Over the course of 2008, 26 focus groups with 202 individuals were conducted with a diversity of populations across the United States to determine similarities and differences with respect to the importance of forests. Diversity was represented by age, gender, geographic location, race, and ethnicity. The sample consisted of: six college student focus groups, five groups of urban African Americans, two groups each of urban high school students, Native Americans, and rural adults; and one group each of rural high school students, urban Arab Americans, urban senior citizens, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Caucasians.

Participants offered a very wide range of reasons why forests were important to them personally and to their communities (table 44-1). The depth and breadth of the discussions support and expand on earlier research indicating trees and forests are important to Americans in diverse ways and they are able to clearly articulate this importance.

Table 44-2: Changes in people’s interactions with trees and forests over their lifetimeTable 44-3: Negative feelings people have about trees and forests

Focus group participants also discussed ways their interactions with trees and forests have changed over their lifetime, (table 44-2), negative feelings they have about forests (table 44-3) and concerns they have about forests (table 44-4).

Table 44-4: Concerns people have about trees and forests

The results of the focus groups clearly indicate that forests are important to Americans in many ways and that a broad cross-section of Americans are able to articulate these factors. The results also show that Americans have multiple concerns about the future of forests.

Although many similarities exist across the diverse focus group participants, the data suggest some differences based on race and ethnicity (feelings of exclusion and fear associated with forests among African-Americans), rural versus urban geography (rural respondents were more concerned with forest policy and management issues and forest degradation and urban respondents were more concerned with damage to their home), and age (younger respondents actively interacted with forests and to older respondents aesthetics and the trees they could see out their windows were more important). These differences reinforce the need to reflect the demographic diversity of the United States when considering the acceptability of forest management activities focused on sustainability.

Why can’t the entire indicator be reported at this time?

Although this research has provided a number of categories and descriptions of values related to the environment and forests, no studies were found presenting a statistically robust national sample that would allow for analysis of differences in values based on geographic location across the country, ethnicity, occupation, age, urban or rural residence, gender, or many other socio-demographic or cultural variables. In addition, no known studies have documented the intensity, structure, or correlation of values for forests at this scale. Finally, no known research exists that has monitored how these values change over time. Future research is needed to provide this information and develop a protocol to elicit information that can be replicated over time to monitor trends in these values across population segments.

Criterion 6 Indicators