News Flash: Healthy Forests Make For Happy Forest Workers
A couple of weeks ago the Washington Post had a news item that put a big smile on my face. “Envy the lumberjacks” it begins, “for they perform the happiest, most meaningful work on earth.”
And why not? America’s tree farmers and their workforce collectively help ensure that the American forests that bring us paper and packaging products are responsibly managed, protecting against disease, wildfire, and invasive species; encouraging sustainable growth and biodiversity; planning long-term for soil, water and air integrity; and growing about twice as much as is harvested each year, on average. That sounds pretty meaningful to me!
For the last ten years, The Washington Post survey has asked a sample of Americans how meaningful they find the activities they are engaged in, including “how happy, sad, stressed, pained and tired” they feel doing them. Forest workers particularly, and agricultural workers more broadly, ranked at the bottom for how stressful they find their jobs, and at the top for how happy those jobs make them.
The fact is that being around trees just makes us feel good. That isn’t just common sense, it’s science. As the piece notes: “Researchers across the social and medical sciences have found a strong link between mental health and green space or being outdoors. Even seeing a tree out your window can help you recover from illness faster….That adjacency to nature forms the core of forestry’s appeal.”
You’re no doubt familiar with our Forest Bathing material, and that gets at something similar. So too does our most recent Faces of the Forest video, about a small patch of urban forest transformed into a “Peace Park” by a local faith community.
There’s also a great testimonial from a Ms. Dana Chandler, co-owner of Family Tree Forestry in South Carolina, who “compared working in the forest not just to therapy, but to aromatherapy.”
It’s tough being a woman in the industry, especially an African American one, but what other job gives you a constant smell track of pine sap, fresh wood chips, loamy soil and swamp decay?
“Even on your worst day — something has broken down and you need to get wood to the mill — the wind’ll blow and you’ll inhale a familiar scent — that pine sap — and it’ll just take you to a place of peace instantly,” Chandler said. “It’s therapy. The woods is therapy, the forest is therapy. You can have the worst day ever but when you get out here? The forest just takes it all away.”
Another forest scientist points out that “[f]orestry forces you to work on a slower time scale. It pushes you to have a generational outlook.”
“There’s a point where you are now planting trees that you are not going to see harvested,” she said. “It speaks to something larger than yourself. … Your work is living on, and someone else will benefit from your efforts in a tangible way.”
Just as importantly, she said, as a forester you know your work is sustainable. As your trees grow, they’re sucking carbon out of the air while providing a habitat for wildlife and a linchpin for regional ecosystems. When they’re harvested, their carbon will either be stored for the long term as a joist in a house, or as paper packaging that will replace the fossil-fuel-heavy plastics littering American landfills.
I mean, we couldn’t have said it any better ourselves, and that’s our organizational mission!
Because no matter how nice it may be to smell the pine sap and the fresh, dewy air; no matter how good it must feel to hear the birds chirp and break a sweat in an honest day’s work, our forest product workers couldn’t possibly have the satisfaction they do if they felt at any level like the joy they were doing was harming those beautiful environs.
Their happiness instead is grounded in knowing they are helping. Just like the paper and packaging industry is helping replace fossil-fuel derived materials with natural and renewable ones. Helping plant twice as much wood as is harvested each year. Helping incentivize that long-term, generational thinking that ensures the forests we leave to our grandchildren will be stronger than the ones our grandparents left to us.
That will put a smile on anyone’s face.