Trees and forests are critical for proper functioning of a watershed, and the quality and health of the watershed is critical for wildlife and humans who depend upon it. The proportion of forest within a watershed is a determining factor in water quality and the health of aquatic ecosystems. A watershed is the area that drains into a lake, stream or river via smaller streams or ditches, directly over the land surface or underground. Clean water may be the most valuable forest product.
Trees reduce runoff, curb erosion, cool air temperatures, stabilize riverbanks, improve air quality, uptake nutrients and toxins from the soil, and provide critical habitat for wildlife. Urban and rural parts of the watershed benefit from forests through flood mitigation, municipal water supply protection, groundwater recharging and recreational opportunities. Forest provide significant benefits to the community and ecosystem by filtering pollutants from the air and water, protecting soils and water-bodies, providing refuge and habitat for wildlife and being generally aesthetically valuable. Forested watersheds are critical to people and the environment for sustaining water quality, stabilizing streams and rivers, providing critical habitat for fish and wildlife, removing pollutants from the air and protecting our water supply.
The USDA Forest Service in coordination with state foresters targets cooperative forestry programs in order to address watershed health and restoration issues. The forest service provides demonstration projects and aids in financial and technical assistance to states and communities to advocate education and training, regulate threats to forest health and partner locally to protect and enhance watersheds on both public and private lands. They are actively working to promote awareness of persistent water quality and watershed issues by demonstrating and communicating the necessity of conservation, restoration and proper stewardship of forests and therefore water quality and watershed health.