Many of us have experienced a restorative walk in the woods. But does associating with trees really make us any healthier? After investigating the loss of some 100 million ash trees in the Eastern and Midwestern United States, Forest Service researcher Geoffrey Donovan and his colleagues suspect that the answer is yes.
The emerald ash borer is an invasive beetle that attacks all 22 species of North American ash, killing most of the trees it infects. In its wake, city streets are left treeless. The research team looked at forest health and human mortality data at the county level in 15 states reporting ash borer activity between 1990 and 2007.
Their results, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found areas with infestations suffered 15,000 more cardiovascular disease deaths and 6,000 more respiratory deaths when compared to uninfected areas.
“The central question that the study raises is how can the ash tree deaths be linked to human deaths.”
Dr. David Strayer is a senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.
“We know that trees improve environmental quality, including air quality. And there have been a number of studies in the last few years showing that regular contact with nature improves human health. People have healthier babies. They’re less stressed. People even heal faster and have less pain after surgery if they have a tree to look out at through the window of the hospital room.”
The take home messages: Trees are important. Invasive species are a problem. And we need to guard the quality of the environment because it affects us in the most personal way—through our own health.
Produced in collaboration with WAMC Northeast Public Radio, this podcast originally aired on April 26 2013. To access a full archive of Earth Wise podcasts, visit: www.earthwiseradio.org.
Photo: Rebecca Partington via Flickr.