Forestry keeps Natural State growing

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following guest column was submitted by U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs, who represents the 4th Congressional District.

Last week, Sen. John Boozman and I embarked on a tour of our state's multibillion dollar forestry industry. The Seed to Sawmill Tour brought us to six counties across south Arkansas where we were able to see tens of millions of seedlings beginning a life cycle that will lead to sustainable use of our forests. We saw sustainable harvesting of timber and its final production into building materials and so much more. The Seed to Sawmill Tour also took us to the U.S. Forest Service's Experimental Forest in Crossett, where we learned about years of research that continues to help us have healthy forests.

The visit to large companies like Weyerhaeuser in Emerson and small, family owned companies like Maxwell Hardwood Flooring in Monticello not only educated us on the process of growing a tree from seedling until it is put to use in forest products but also introduced us to the challenges faced by businesses as they deal with a myriad of government regulations. Businesses who responsibly grow and harvest timber want to also grow their companies, but rules created by unelected bureaucrats – -- not by Congress -- – are stifling both expansion and productivity.

Beyond government red tape, we also heard from companies that have struggled with a workforce not meeting the needs of business in the 21st Century. If the industry is to continue its growth in Arkansas, forestry professionals told us that it is important to support vocational education that will train employees for the jobs of today and the future, imparting the skills and work ethic necessary for success.

The Seed to Sawmill Tour also introduced us to some of the people and communities behind forestry in Arkansas. During our visit to Warren on Aug. 31, we had lunch at Molly's Diner and learned how small businesses like Molly's depend on the business generated by the local mill. In an industry where the average employee earns $49,000 in annual salary, the spending power in forestry communities increases and entrepreneurs start businesses that thrive.

The direct economic impact of forestry in local communities amounts to more than $1.38 billion in annual payroll across Arkansas and adds $3.2 billion in total value to the state's economy, according to the Arkansas Forestry Association. But when you factor in the benefits to companies like Molly's, the Arkansas Forest Resources Association estimates an indirect impact of an additional 18,256 jobs with an additional economic impact of $3.3 billion. Combined, the economic impact of forestry is more than $6 billion dollars and it will only continue to grow as new uses are found for timber.

Beyond the obvious economic benefits, we also learned much about how to create and maintain healthy forests. Flourishing forests are not only important to an industry that relies on healthy, thriving trees as a renewable resource, but they are also important to those of us who live in and around these natural wonders. The Arkansas Forestry Association notes that "loggers and foresters abide in Best Management Practices to protect water quality in streams, rivers and lakes, and to minimize soil loss due to erosion." The AFA explains that the result of these efforts is a better environment for Arkansans with clean air, a healthy wildlife habitat, excellent soil and water quality, scenic beauty, and recreational opportunities.

I want to thank the members of the forestry community who keep our 19 million acres of Arkansas forests healthy and thriving. Their efforts are what make Arkansas The Natural State and keep our economy growing and strong. The next time you drive through the Ouachita or Ozark National Forests on Scene Route 7, pass a mill or a log truck, or even purchase a new table, take a few seconds to think about the tens of thousands of Arkansans who make sustainable forestry possible in The Natural State.

Editorial on 09/09/2016

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