More than 28,000 Arkansas residents work in the forest products industry, cutting trees, producing paper and pulp, manufacturing furniture and shipping wood products across the world.
The majority of those jobs are in rural areas. They support ancillary occupations that bring the annual payroll of forestry-related occupations to $1.7 billion. The value of standing timber is estimated to be more than $12.6 billion.
The timber industry accounts for 5.1 percent of the total state economy, which means that forestry makes a bigger contribution to the Arkansas economy than it does in any other southern state. Forestry accounts for 4.6 percent of the Mississippi economy and 4.5 percent of Alabama’s, but only 0.8 percent of the economy of Texas.
About 55 percent of Arkansas, or almost 19 million acres, is forested. Dallas County is the most heavily forested County, according to a Farm Bureau report. It is 94 percent forested. Mississippi County is the least covered in forest, with only five percent.
Most of the forest in Arkansas is hardwood, and about half of the pine forests are planted. Arkansas is the top state for planting oak seedlings in the South.
Also, Arkansas has the largest area of national forest in the South, with 2.5 million acres in the Ouachita and the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests.
In the 10-year period from 2008 through 2017, Arkansas lost an average of 22,740 acres of forest a year to wildfires.
The state Forestry Division was created in 1931 by an act of the legislature, with the purpose of protecting timberland from fires and natural hazards, while promoting the overall health of forests.
Last year Searcy County lost the most acreage to forest fires, with almost 11,000 acres burned. Izard County was second, with more than 6,600 acres of forest lost to fire. Chicot County, in the farm country of southeast Arkansas, came in at the bottom of the list with only three acres of forest lost to fire.
Insects such as beetles, moths, wood borers, worms and weevils can significantly reduce the value of a forest. Trees also can get diseased, especially when they’re under stress from drought or heat. Most of the common diseases are a type of fungus that cause blight, scale, spots, mildew and rust, according to the Cooperative Extension Service.
The University of Arkansas at Monticello has the only school of forestry in the state, but most of our state-supported colleges and universities have programs in agri-business, biology or environmental sciences.
Last year the Extension Service Plant Clinic received 3,321 plant samples for diagnosis of a disease.
County extension agents or staff at the Forestry Commission also help landowners market their timber. Private non-industrial landowners have about 58 percent of the forest land in Arkansas. Harvesting timber may not be their main source of income, but if managed wisely it can become a valuable investment.
Paper products made up almost 4 percent of total Arkansas exports overseas last year. Exports of paper have been on a three-year decline, according to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Exports of recovered waste and scrap paper, with wood pulp, have increased over the same period, from accounting for less than 2 percent of total Arkansas exports to more than 4.25 percent.