I attended the Arkansas Forestry Association’s (AFA) annual meeting held earlier this month in Fayetteville. Since 1945, the annual meeting has brought together professional foresters, private landowners, educators and forest researchers to exchange information on best practices and learn about the latest research and new trends in the industry. This year’s meeting unveiled growing opportunities for Arkansas’ economy and identified issues and trends affecting our greatest resources: forest and water.
Through a series of panel discussions and a riveting keynote from Tom Martin of the American Forest Foundation, participants engaged deeply in discussing the successes and challenges that affect our forest and timber industry.
Tom Martin, executive director of the American Forest Foundation, formally kicked off the meeting by leading a call-to-action to educate the next generation by continuing to invest and collaborate in developing powerful stories that illustrate the social, economic and environmental benefits of using wood products. Martin highlighted a few policy initiatives his foundation is advocating, including the Timber Innovation Act and increased funding for wildlife management practices. Martin encouraged participants to actively engage in legislative outreach in order to educate their local officials on the significant contributions and strides the forest industry has made.
While we know forests play a critical role in both our economy and environment, did you know that for every dollar invested in forest management, $27 is saved to treat drinking water? Catherine Weisman with the U.S. Endowment for Forests and Communities showcased that through the Southeastern Partnership for Forestry and Water Quality. Arkansas is playing a critical role in creating clean, well-managed, healthy forests to benefit drinking water and local economies. The Southeastern Partnership is an innovative partnership among several states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas. These states forestry sector leaders and water utilities work together to answer the call to address various threats, such as population growth, climate change, timber markets and invasive species.
At standing room only, representatives from Canfor, Interfor and West Fraser joined a panel discussion to discuss why international companies are choosing Arkansas to invest. Due to the mountain pine beetle infestation and other factors, these three Canadian companies were attracted to Arkansas for its Southern Yellow Pine and workforce. As the housing sector continues to grow in the United States, these companies expressed an interest in expansion over the next few years in the South. Arkansas and these companies will need to prepare its workforce to meet these demands.
The meeting concluded with a unique showcase of AFA award winners and their contributions to the state. The awards ceremony was an illustration of the many impressive on-the-ground impacts that are a result of strong partnerships, innovation and thoughtful leadership from private owners and volunteers. It was remarkable to witness the Earl T. Smith family representing three generations accept their award for Tree Farmer of the Year and Lee Anne Fitzgerald discuss how she works with hundreds of volunteers in the Central Arkansas Log A Load For Kids program to raise more than $8 million for Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
The family legacies represented in the room were powerful, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute is excited to begin working with leaders to focus on advances in the forestry sector as well as challenging issues facing the industry. As such, we will offer a landowners business workshop Thursday, March 9, 2017. The workshop, representing a partnership with Mississippi State University’s Natural Resource Enterprise program and the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension, will inform owners of timber land about various income diversification opportunities. For more information, follow the link or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.