Guest writer


State forest management shows way

It is no secret that every summer, western states experience what has become an annual season of devastating wildfires. The West is a patchwork of public lands, and the federal government has long neglected its responsibility to actively manage the forests and grasslands it owns.

In contrast, Arkansas, home to a thriving forestry sector that utilizes sound management practices in upkeep of the 18.9 million acres of forestlands--57 percent of the state's land mass--the many benefits of good forest management may seem obvious. Unfortunately, other states and many within the federal government seem to value overregulation over the welfare of the people, the forests, and the environment.

In 2020, over 10 million acres of land burned across the country. In Washington state alone, 89 fires burned over 1.87 million acres. Only 700,000 acres burned in the eastern United States, where droughts are less prolific and foresters are free from bureaucracy. Arkansans employ a wide variety of management practices that exemplify what should happen across the United States to prevent catastrophic wildfires and increase production of much-needed environmentally friendly wood products.

We are proud to bring members of the Congressional Western Caucus to Arkansas' 4th District to see this for themselves. The Western Caucus is a group of lawmakers from rural communities across the country who understand the impact federal policy and regulations on our lands, water, and agriculture have on the livelihoods of our constituents.

On this field tour, we will highlight Arkansas' state-of-the-art lumber mill bringing jobs and economic resurgence to rural America, quartz mining, and a hydroelectric dam that generates clean, renewable baseload energy for the region. Perhaps most importantly, we will explore the state's private and federal lands, learning firsthand how Arkansans deploy management practices that will prevent and mitigate catastrophic wildfires in the West.

Western Caucus members, and the communities we represent, understand the rapid uptick in wildfire intensity is primarily a result of forests becoming overgrown due to a lack of active management on federal lands. According to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), which manages 193 million acres across the country, 70 percent of the nationwide acreage that burned has been on federal lands, most of which were "managed" by the USFS. Despite the obvious threat posed by wildfires, the agency only carries out 2 percent of needed fuel-reduction treatments per year.

It does not have to be this way. By cutting the red tape that surrounds forest management, we can save billions of dollars in lost property and firefighting costs, all while saving lives and protecting our lands, air, and water.

Good management is evident when you see it, and Arkansas utilizes its natural resources responsibly for the benefit of the state and the nation.

Places like Hot Springs National Park are enjoyed by millions of people annually, and the state's forests produce more than 24 million tons of harvested timber per year. Forestry is a naturally green industry that generates over $1.8 billion of labor income per year, adding over $3.6 billion to the state's GDP. Meanwhile, the state's forests continue to grow, and there are 1.2 million more acres of forestland today than there was in 1978.

We are just beginning to tap into the potential of timber as a renewable resource, and Arkansas is on the cutting edge. The University of Arkansas' research with a type of "super-plywood"--called Cross Laminated Timber (CLT)--has demonstrated the benefits of a new mainstream building material. Using renewable forests and Arkansas know-how, Walmart is building its new headquarters in Bentonville out of CLT. CLT is strong, reliable, code-compliant, and good for the environment. This is just another example of how, with proper forest management, we can have both a healthy ecosystem and a healthy economy.

Our federal and private lands are incredibly valuable and should be protected from poor governance. We are proud that Congressional Western Caucus members will learn how we can better protect our precious resources and rural communities throughout the country by learning from the experts in the Natural State and by following their lead. Opportunities like this are invaluable as we push for common-sense policies in the nation's capital, like those found right here in Arkansas.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman represents Arkansas’ 4th District. He is unopposed in his primary bid for re-election. U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse represents Washington state's 4th District, and is chairman of the Western Caucus.