Arkansas Economic Development Commission

Healthy Forests - Part 2: Key Components to Sustainable Forest Management in Arkansas

June 27, 2017

A thriving timber industry starts with trees. In Arkansas, we are located in the heart of the nation’s “Wood Basket,” with 19 million acres of timberland covering more than half of the state. But, the Arkansas forestry industry can only be successful where forests are sustainable and properly managed. There are three important components of sustainable forest management.

Forest Health
Everything we do in forestry should contribute to good forest health. If we don’t effectively balance our growth-to-harvest ratio, our forests can become very dense over time. Dense, thick forests provide opportunities for insects, disease and wildfire to negatively impact forest health. Our forests need to be thinned from time to time. Thinning allows more sunlight to hit the ground and more green plants to grow, which attracts good insects, more birds and wildlife. A more open canopy reduces the risk of harmful insects, disease and catastrophic wildfire. 

Having a strong forest industry in Arkansas provides a market for our timber. Those markets mean the timberland owner has an opportunity for a return on his or her investment – which means they have the resources to continue to manage their forests for the long-term. You only have to look to the American West where those problems are manifested to see what can happen when you shut down your forest industry. 

Diversity is another indication of forest health. In Arkansas, we have an abundant supply of hardwood, primarily in the northern part of the state, and an ample supply of pine, primarily in the south. Oak and hickory forest make up 41 percent of the land area, and 31 percent is made up of loblolly and shortleaf pine. And, our trees are also diverse in age. Even-aged forests tend to be more vulnerable to insects, disease and wildfire. A mix of younger and more mature trees create a healthy balance, and that’s yet another benefit of thinning the forest in a timely manner.

Finally, a healthy forest is sustainable. We are currently growing significantly more timber than we are harvesting – both pine and hardwood. With an average growth rate of 1.6 trees per tree harvested, the state has one of North America’s most sustainable timber supplies of pine, oak and other hardwoods. Since 1978, the amount of standing forest in Arkansas has increased by more than 50 percent – clearly indicating both the sustainability and growth potential – for Arkansas forest industries.

Collaboration
Arkansas is well-known across the nation for its ability to collaborate – to work toward a common goal. Private industry works well with state and federal partners, like the Arkansas Forestry Commission and U.S. Forest Service, and with educational partners like the University of Arkansas – Monticello School of Forestry and Natural Resources and its Forest Resources Center – all working for the same goal of ensuring that we have healthy forests in Arkansas. Usually, if you see one of us at a meeting, we’re all there because none of us has all the resources or answers required to do every job and all of us are focused on the same thing – sustaining our healthy forests.

There is a sense of collaboration between policy makers, agencies and those in the regulatory arena. We understand and appreciate the need for regulations and rules, but in Arkansas that doesn’t have to be adversarial. We work hard to develop relationships that allow us to understand the expectations for operating in the state and provide opportunities for our partners to understand forestry, so when we have an issue, we can work together to find a solution.

Economic Opportunity
When an industry creates jobs and business opportunities in a state, it inevitably finds our citizens are a willing and skilled workforce. As a rather rural state, Arkansans understand what it means to grow timber, rice, soybeans, corn and cotton. It’s our way of life. Many of us have a long history in the timber industry. When new industry comes along, there is often twice the number of applicants for the jobs. Our people want to work. In Arkansas, the forest industry provides nearly 28,000 jobs. Indirectly, it supports more than 60,000 jobs statewide, and 5 percent of the state’s economy.

With more than 50 percent of our state covered in forests, you can see why Arkansas is “The Natural State.” Hunting, fishing and tourism in Arkansas are huge economic drivers, and much of that takes place in our forests. It’s a natural partnership. The aesthetic beauty of our state is enhanced by our wonderful forests. Those who come to our state enjoy nature, birds, wildlife and clean water, and all of those things depend on our healthy forests. 

The forest will be managed. We can either do it in a responsible and sustainable manner, or Mother Nature will do it for us. Sustainable forest management is a win-win. Everyone who appreciates a healthy forest can get exactly what they want – whether its beauty, wildlife, recreation or a financial return from helping create the more than 5,000 products we get from the forests each day.

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 Max Braswell is the Executive Vice President of the Arkansas Forestry Commission.