“The forest is a frame of mind”, once wrote a famous French philosopher. The very word forest has etymological roots that provide food for thought. Its origins lie in the Low Latin foras, which meant “at the doorstep”, “outside”. A clear hint that there were times when, in many parts of Europe, one only had to walk out of the house to be in the woods.
More prosaically, forests cover a little more than a third of the planet’s habitable land, and over half of them are found in only five countries: Russia, Brazil, Canada, the United States and the People’s Republic of China. In metropolitan France, forests occupy about 31% of the territory and provide a habitat for 136 different tree species. The number may seem surprising, but the total surface area of French forests has doubled in the last 150 years.
On the whole, however, forests have been shrinking and degrading over the last few milleniums, a fact all the more disturbing given that forests are essential to the planet’s ecosystems. The chief reason for this decline is relatively simple: humanity has always considered forests less “profitable” than farmlands and pastures, and has therefore largely sacrificed them to the latter.