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Seedlings to Sawmills: Forestry Is Key to Arkansas Economy (Commentary)

3 min read

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 Arkansans regularly see. Some may even recall passing mills in Crossett, Leola, Mansfield or 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 No. 1 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 — research scientists and foresters; 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 percent — 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 that 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 Aug. 30. 

During this three-day tour, we will visit various sites around Arkansas’ timber-rich 4th 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.

(U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., is Arkansas’ senior senator. U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., represents Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District. Their forestry tour will stop at Weyerhaeuser Nursery in Magnolia; Weyerhaeuser in Emerson; Watson Lumber in Mt. Holly; Maxwell Flooring in Monticello; Del-Tin Fiber in El Dorado; the U.S. Forest Service Experimental Forest in Crossett; and Fiber Resources and Evergreen Packaging, both in Pine Bluff.)

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