Panelists Bobby Cochran, Todd Gartner, and Howard Frumkin

carpe diem

What is the surprising connection between forests, water and human health? That’s the question we posed to our audience and a panel of experts.

In December, nearly 90 professionals from the healthcare, natural resources, nonprofit, and water management sectors attended the World Forestry Center and Carpe Diem West’s Forests – Water – Health luncheon to learn about the connections of forests, water, and health.

“There are so many different places where forests intersect—with human health, water security, access to energy, reducing inequality—it makes the World Forestry Center an interesting place to be, hosting these types of gatherings,” said Eric Vines, executive director of the World Forestry Center, in his welcoming remarks.

Emily Roth, a natural resource planner with Portland Parks and Recreation, attended the event to learn not just about the connections of forests, water, and health—“People always talk about water and streams, but not so much about forests”—but also climate change and urban forest health.

Guest speakers emphasized the role that nature plays in promoting health and the need for integrating systems to enable everyone to access green spaces, as well as sharing the nature message outside of the natural resources and healthcare community.

Todd Gartner, senior associate at the World Resources Institute, advised that “we need to move beyond the qualitative arguments of how important these connections are and be able to quantify and monitor what the successes are.”

Howard Frumkin, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health, emphasized working across silos and pursuing relationships with multiple sectors, even unusual groups, such as law enforcement and K-12 educators, who usually aren’t included in these type of discussions.“If we had a medication that helps as much as nature contact at as low of cost, and with as few side effects, we would not be sitting here, we would be buying stock. We have this incredible tool in nature contact,” Frumkin remarked.

For Bobby Cochran, executive director of the Willamette Partnership, seeing all the work undertaken in the Pacific Northwest, “to me, my hope is we can make Oregon and Washington a national center looking at [these connections],” he said. “We already have the leadership.”

During the group report out, attendees called for the need to reach out to communities of color, and as Gartner later pointed out, “We need to practice what we preach about cross-sector collaboration.”

The luncheon concluded with participants describing projects they’re working on and soliciting help for obstacles they are facing. One member in the urban forestry sector asked for advice on how to connect with the business community to support urban forestry, while another asked how to reach under-served communities and communicate the value of trees.

For many attendees, the luncheon served as a launching point for discussing the connections between forests, water, and health.

“I’ve been managing forests and forestlands, millions of acres, for decades and decades and frankly, today was the first time I heard much, if anything about the public health benefits of forestry and the scientific evidence that was talked about here today,” forester John Wilkinson commented.

Following the luncheon, Vines said, “It’s very heartening that people are so enthusiastic to have these cross-sector conversations. I think we need more of it.”

“I had really high expectations [coming to this event],” Cochran shared. “Looking at philanthropy, healthcare, forestry—that’s what we need to move this conversation forward…and the role of the World Forestry Center is important in conveying this.”

Luncheon sponsors were the Irwin Foundation, with support also provided by the Kelley Family Foundation, Oregon Zoo, PacificSource Medicare, Portland Parks & Recreation, Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt, and World Forestry Center Board Member John Wilkinson.