Shinrin-yok (森林浴) in Japan and China and Sanlimyok (산림욕) in Korea offer the gift of ‘forest bathing.’ As you breathe in the mercurial essences of wood oils, you also experience the soothing effects that decrease hormones associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome. Visiting forested spaces reduces negative emotions, too. Plus walks in natural spaces foster the healing powers of deep sleep. Really.
As epicenters for land uses such as logging, mining, grazing, and poaching, our national forests offer anything but that experience. From 1789’s Bill of Rights forward, the intent of law to protect our commons has been bent, spindled, and mutilated to the economic benefit of the few. Now our degraded national forests have become less a place to nurture and appreciate our natural world, and more of a bonanza for Takers intent on financial gain from our public lands. Over the last thirty years, that devastation has escalated.
Here in the Okanogan National Forest where I hike every other day, if you’re an international gold mine such as Crown Resources Corporation’s Buckhorn Mine, you can count on taxpayer dollars to help build the equivalent of a superhighway through national forest lands to enable your lucrative extraction, even as you mine and pollute our limited freshwater to do so. The same occurred during the heights of logging.
If you’re a poacher, you can count on reduced funding to our forestry and wildlife services. Lack of personnel shrinks your chances of being held responsible for your year-round illegal acts of hunting bear with dogs, killing protected species, and further degrading the public lands for your own gains.
If you’re a cattle owner, you can graze your exotic species in our public lands, spread exotic weeds from their feces, and not be held responsible in any way for mitigating your destruction of intermittent creeks even as you benefit financially. Perhaps worse yet, our apex predators, necessary and native to our forest lands, become the villain, since they prey on your literal cash cow.
So let’s up our game on this. Our national forests belong to all of us. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and return these commons to a level of Shinrin-yoku Forest Therapy that benefits all but the Takers. That means getting political, too.
What are you doing to conserve the commons that are our national forests? How do you plan to proceed in restoring our national commons to all of us?