From school mascots to annual festivals and parades, it is evident that forestry is woven into the fabric of Arkansas. The caravan of log trucks making their way to the mill is a sight that is regularly seen by Arkansans. Some may even recall passing mills in Crossett, Leola, Mansfield, or numerous other towns across the Natural State. What many people do not realize about the trees they see going to the mill or the forests they enjoy hunting is what it takes to grow and manage healthy forests, to harvest and process timber, or the impact forestry has on our environment and our economy.
Trees are America’s number one renewable resource. Healthy forests provide clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, and beautiful vistas. But healthy forests don’t just happen. A wide range of professionals from research scientists and foresters to technicians, loggers, machinery operators and the remaining 28,000 Arkansans employed in forestry and its related mills and processing facilities all play a key part in healthy forests in our state. Arkansas forestry has a total economic impact of $3.2 billion annually, with wages averaging $49,000 per year. Forests provide timber for industry and industry provides a home for excess growth so the forests can be conserved while remaining resilient, productive, and healthy for future generations.
Of the forests covering more than 19 million acres of Arkansas, only 13 percent is owned by private industry while 19 percent is publicly owned by either local, state or the federal government. The vast majority – 68% – belongs to non-industrial private owners. Even though forestry in Arkansas has seen its share of significant mill closures, consolidations, economic struggles, and a major reduction in the forestry workforce, there are still at least 40 wood products manufacturing facilities in the state producing lumber, plywood, and other engineered wood products. There are an additional 62 paper related manufacturing facilities which include six pulp mills and 56 paper products converting facilities. Arkansas also has a budding woody biomass energy sector. However, at current industry levels, growth of trees is exceeding removal of trees at a rate of nearly 17 million tons per year providing a glut of trees that is overcrowding our forests.
With forests contributing so much to Arkansas’ environment and economy, we are launching a forestry tour on August 30. During this 3-day tour, we will visit various sites around Arkansas’ timber rich Fourth Congressional District. We will see a seedling nursery, working private forests, a wide variety of state-of-the art processing facilities, and a U.S. Forest Service research forest. We will discuss forestry’s impact on the environment, you and your family, your local community, and your state. We will also discuss how federal legislation can be implemented so Arkansas forestry can stay competitive in a global marketplace.
We hope to see you on the road as we explore Arkansas forestry from seedlings to sawmills.