Arkansas Economic Development Commission

Healthy Forests - Part 1: How the Arkansas Wood Basket Escapes Wildfires

June 21, 2017

Arkansas Economic Development Commision highlights the minimal wildfire risk in ArkansasOne of the larger ongoing threats to our nation’s forests and to our timber industry is wildfire. The United States Forest Service (USFS) reports that each year, an average of more than 73,000 wildfires burn roughly 7 million acres of federal, tribal, state and private lands and more than 2,600 structures, and the costs of fighting these fires continue to grow. Some states fair better than others when it comes to wildfire. In a recent article by Forest2Market, Arkansas was listed with Kentucky as the only two states where the significant wildland fire potential outlook was below normal statewide for the month of June. Sustainable forest health in Arkansas is dependent upon our ability to protect and manage our forests. While wildfire is always a threat, in Arkansas, we are able to consistently minimize the risk of wildfire due to several factors. 

First, Arkansas has a natural propensity to be wetter than many other states. On average, Arkansas receives 49.57 inches of rain per year according to U.S. Climate Data, compared to 30.21 inches for the United States (excluding Hawaii and Alaska). With above-average rainfall and the benefit of plentiful water in our lakes and rivers, Arkansas’ high humidity also helps to keep fires at bay. In fact, it is rare for Arkansas’ humidity to dip below 30 percent for more than a few days at a time. The high humidity and low winds make it difficult for fires to start and even more difficult for a wildfire to last through the night. The vertical relief of the beautiful Ouachita Mountains also helps contribute to our moist climate. 

Another important factor, and one that we can control, is the ongoing responsible management of our forests. Arkansas has a long history of responsible use of our timber. This has created healthy, growing forests that, in turn, have contributed a great deal to the state, including clean air and water, recreation opportunities, outstanding wildlife habitat, and good incomes for our citizens. In Arkansas, 81 percent of our forestland is privately owned, and landowners have economic incentive to harvest timber sustainably. Through responsible timber harvesting and thoughtful regeneration methods, our forests are able to avoid the widespread disease and insect infestations that can and do contribute to wildfires. We have diverse forests of hardwoods and pine and, because of active thinning, harvesting, natural regeneration and replanting, we have trees (and forests) of various ages. The trees are not overcrowded and have room to grow.  All of this contributes to the ongoing health of Arkansas’ forests, which cover over half (57%) of the state. In Arkansas, we understand that healthy, well-managed forests are much less likely to be destroyed by rampaging wildfire. 

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Joe Fox Picture  Joe Fox is State Forester for the Arkansas Forestry Commission.