The logs have been counted and the verdict for last year is in – Arkansas’s timber industry is more important than ever.

Today I’d like to talk about that good news, which comes from state forester Joe Fox, and what it means for Arkansas. Joe grew up in the sawmill business. Joe, his father, and his grandfather, were members of the Arkansas Forestry Commission, the only family in state history with three generations to serve on the commission. Dr. Matthew Pelkki and Dr. Phillip Tappe from the College of Forestry at the University of Arkansas at Monticello also provided information about our forest industry.

The tons of timber we hauled to mills in 2020 equaled 2019, making the past year the second best on record and still we grew 20 million tons more than we harvested last year! In fact, we have grown millions of tons of surplus each of the last several years. That surplus is very attractive for forest markets.

Arkansas is the ninth leading producer of timber in the United States. We have 1.2 million acres more forestland today than we had in 1978.

We harvest more than 24 million tons per year, which is worth approximately $445 million to landowners. As long as we have sufficient buyers for our timber, we can keep our forests thinned out and healthy. If we continue to produce that level of surplus for too many years, eventually our forests will become too dense, which reduces the quality of the trees as they compete for sun, water, and nutrients. Dense forests increase the risk of insect infestations and wildfires.

As we continue to grow our forests, we must continue to expand into new markets and find new uses for timber. In Europe, manufacturers have found a way to make a cellulosic-based plastic-like product for making items such as drinking bottles.

Another company, Structurlam, manufactures a construction product called cross-laminated timber, or CLT. The wood product is precision tooled for commercial and residential construction. The Canadian company is opening a plant in Conway and will supply Walmart with mass timber for its new headquarters in Bentonville. Structurlam will manufacture its CLT exclusively with Arkansas pine.

Fifty-seven percent of Arkansas is forested. That’s 19 million acres of trees that scrub our air, keep our lakes, streams, and rivers clean and shelter our wildlife. Our forests offer adventure, a living, and a way of life for 3 million Arkansans.

Jeff Dezort, Newton County Times editor, has worked at the newspaper since 2001. Before that he was a reporter, photographer and assistant editor of the Harrison Daily Times.

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