In 1966, I announced that I was moving to Arkansas. My mother was horrified. Where???
Her memory of Arkansas was the place where her father traveled to hunt bear, bringing home bearskins and claws as souvenirs--the deep woods, filled with scary beasts!
Little did I know that those very forests would be a major motivation in my desire to stay here for the next 50 years. I have been surrounded by beautiful forests during many pleasurable hours of hiking, camping, canoeing, and driving--and at present, making site visits related to land conservation.
At that time, the forest products industry was the largest employer in the state. The "paper companies" were important corporate citizens, as well as stewards of our forests. A great change came, many years later, with the introduction of REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts), which put additional pressure on forest resources in Arkansas. The focus shifted to seeking "highest and best use of land"--in other words, a much shorter planning horizon, with more frequent turnover in ownership.
Our 4th District congressman, Bruce Westerman, has introduced a bill which will assure the future of our own Arkansas forests, as well as those throughout the nation, including our national forests and parks.
As the only registered forester in both houses of Congress, Representative Westerman has realized the jeopardy in which our forest service agencies find themselves in 2016. He has introduced House Bill HR2647 to assure the stability of both state and national forest service agencies in their work to keep forests healthy.
In recent years, much of the financial resources of forest services have been utilized in firefighting and in dealing with the after-effects of weather events such as ice storms, floods, and tornadoes. The proposed legislation will allow for quicker response to such episodes and more immediate regrowth work undertaken as needed to regenerate damaged forest ecosystems--without jeopardizing the day-to-day activities of forest preservation.
How is this important for Arkansas? We have 18.5 million acres of timberland--56 percent of the state--containing 11.8 billion trees. Arkansas contains 2.5 million acres in the Ozark-St. Francis and Ouachita National Forests--the largest national forest area in the South.
Our forests include a total of 900 million tons of living trees. These trees are not only beautiful, but bring about massive amounts of carbon sequestration to purify the air, generation of nitrogen to enrich the soil, subsoil cohesion for the courses of our streams and rivers, topsoil stability to prevent erosion, habitat for abundant wildlife, and the beauty we all enjoy for outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing.
In addition to these benefits, there are substantial economic advantages--forestry directly employs 28,000 people in Arkansas. The value-added to our gross state product is $2.8 billion. With economic multipliers, the contribution of forestry to Arkansas' economy is 70,000 jobs, $6.3 billion in GSP and $3.7 billion in labor income.
When compared to the national economy, Arkansas is four times more dependent on forestry than the USA as a whole. HR2647 is important for us, as well as for the entire nation. If fire suppression is now consuming one-half of the U.S. Forest Service budget, it is time for Congress to act.
We are fortunate to be represented by Congressman Bruce Westerman, member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Senator John Boozman, member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, to introduce and carry forward legislation that will preserve healthy forests for future generations of Arkansans.
Carol P. Williams is executive director of Land Trust of Arkansas.
Editorial on 09/26/2016
Print Headline: For healthy forests