When We Need Them Most, Birds and Nature Are At Our Service

The natural world holds tremendous value, in ways both expected and surprising—if only we let it.

The fall issue of Audubon magazine was tough to produce. As you may recall, we dedicated 88 pages to exploring how climate change could affect birds and people, and the collective actions we must take in a very short time frame to stave off its most dire consequences. Our staff felt overwhelmed, by the task at hand and by the magnitude of the challenge facing society.

How did we cope? Well, we had a channel in Slack (our office messaging system) where we spoke openly with other Audubon staff members around the country about climate grief. We also went birding. We sought solace outside, stepping away from our troubled thoughts to focus instead on something uncomplicated and calm, on life carrying on. Did this erase our anxiety completely? No. Did it help us return to our office and lives recentered and recharged? Absolutely.      

We experienced firsthand what a growing number of scientists are finding: Spending time in nature has tangible benefits to mental health and well-being. Our new issue includes a package of pieces on how this body of emerging research has guided efforts to increase exposure and access to green spaces. Our profile of Debi Shearwater shows how she—as with everything Debi does—took this concept to the next level, finding her true self in the Texas countryside, then blazing a trail onto Monterey Bay where she has introduced California’s marine life to many thousands more people.

The social and emotional benefits of nature are one component of another growing area of research, called ecosystem services. These encompass the myriad ways wildlife and the environment enrich our lives, including everything from supporting local economies, as the salmon do at Alaska’s Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, to providing clean air and water. On California’s Santa Cruz Island, researchers are studying how a service provided by Island Scrub-Jays—the ability to replant oak woodlands—might be harnessed to more quickly restore degraded landscapes.

The value of such benefits can be hard to quantify, which makes them easy to discount—especially when stacked up against a quick fix or fast payout. But history shows, as will the future if we’re not careful, we do so at our peril.

This story originally ran in the Winter 2019 issue as “Net Worth.” To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.​