At this year’s Oregon Community Trees conference titled, “Diversifying our Urban Forests: People, Partnerships, and Trees,” keynote speaker Dr. William Sullivan from the University of Illinois told us about new policies at the American Public Health Association (APHA) that seek to improve health and wellness through access to nature. I wanted to shout “Trees Are the Answer!”

In this sometimes crazy-busy world around us, wouldn’t it be great if everyone, everyone, had access to nearby nature? The APHA policy recognizes the benefits of access to nature whether it is through parks, gardens, greenways, nature-based school and playgrounds, or green space around homes and work places. This access promotes higher levels of outdoor physical activity, relieves stress and provides a greater sense of well-being to those engaged in activities in these spaces. As green practitioners, we know that along with those social benefits comes is cleaner air and water and cooler cities.

The APHA policy goes on to say, “In order to promote people-nature contact across American communities, public health practitioners and policymakers should form alliances with parks departments, planning and design departments, housing agencies, greening and garden organizations, cooperative extension services, school districts, and nature centers to prioritize access to natural areas, productive landscapes, and other green spaces for people of all ages, income levels, and abilities.”

As arborists, horticulturists, and/or just plant geeks, we have firsthand knowledge of the value of green space. We can add to the conversation our understanding that the urban forest, in order to provide health benefits, also needs to be healthy. We need to adequately manage community trees and green spaces to assure these precious assets are maintained for long-term resilience and sustainability.

We can’t go it alone. We need to “think outside the bark,” so to speak. It is a good time to seek partners in our communities that share our goals for healthy, vibrant, green spaces and healthy, vibrant, people and to encourage them to advocate for near-by nature.

Check out APHA’s Improving Health and Wellness through Access to Nature web page. Here you will find a list of action steps (including tree planting) that encourage the entire community — from health practitioners to policy makers, environmentally justice groups, and planners and practitioners — to work together to set public health priorities that promote healthy and active lifestyles.

Then get started. And when you do, make sure to take the time to enjoy those wonderful trees and green spaces that provide a plethora of health-giving benefits.

Happy summer.

By Linden J. Lampman, program manager, DNR Urban and Community Forestry Program