Forests and trees, in general, can be a bit easy to forget about in southwest Kansas where flat, open fields dominate the landscape. However, I am originally from Missouri and forests always will hold a special place in my heart. Some of my fondest memories growing up were going to "the woods" with my siblings and friends. The woods were just a few acres of trees two blocks from my downtown Kansas City home. Growing up in a large city has many advantages, but I would never count concrete as one of them. Surrounded by the artificial world that humans have built, my constant escape was the thick shelter of trees where we spent hours building rope swings, tree houses and playing "wilderness." I attribute my passion for nature as an adult to my time playing in the woods as a child.

It wasn't until much later that I learned the different types of forests and just how important they really are. For instance, the Boreal forests consist mostly of conifers and evergreens such as spruce, firs and pines. These forests spread across most of the northern part of the world including Canada and Alaska. They can exist in cooler climates and do not require as much rain. Temperate forests contain conifers and evergreens but also have enough moisture to support leafy, deciduous trees such as maples, oaks and hickory. Temperate forests can be found in the eastern half of the United States. The trees of tropical rainforests vary greatly in size, shape and function, but all require warm temperatures and lots of moisture in order to survive. Because of this, they are found along the equator in Central America, South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Even though these three are considered the main types of forests, they can be subdivided further based on location and tree types.

No matter what the type, forests are incredibly important. If you think of all the items made from trees that we use every day, it can be overwhelming. From the newspaper you are holding to the building you are in, the oxygen you breathe or the orange juice you had for breakfast, the products of trees can be found everywhere. Forests are also important as a habitat for animals and plants. Rainforests are considered the most biologically diverse places on earth and are home to more species of animals and plants than anywhere else. Trees also impact the economic livelihood of thousands of people. Groves and orchards provide us with numerous food products while the timber industry generates building supplies and other material goods.

Since trees are so valuable economically, it is often easy to get carried away and overlook the negative impact that can occur when we indulge in too much of a good thing. Deforestation has become a major problem across the globe and there are many reasons that forests are getting smaller in size, including population growth and over-harvesting. But the good news is that it's not too late to make a difference. Recycling paper and other tree products reduces the need to cut down more trees to replace what is thrown away. Planting a tree provides shelter for animals, shade and beauty to your yard, and generates oxygen by consuming carbon dioxide. Don't have a place to plant a tree or want to do more? Consider donating to organizations that are committed to protecting forests around the world.

However, one of the best things you can do is increase your knowledge of the benefit of trees and forests, then share that knowledge with others. An easy way to do this is to visit the zoo and walk around our grounds. Aside from an amazing animal collection, the zoo boasts a huge variety of trees, many with identification plaques. If you get tired, you can always sit in the shade of one of these trees and watch the squirrels, birds and insects that inhabit them. Forests were the beginning of my passion for nature. Perhaps they can instill a passion in you as well.

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