Early settlers came to the Arkansas Timberlands because of our forests, and today timber is still at the heart of our economy. As an elected official entrusted with caring for Arkansas’ residents, it is my responsibility to ensure our state’s forestry industry is protected and supported by smart policy, both domestically and on an international scale.
I’ve worked in forestry since I graduated college, and I’ve seen our industry change since.
Advancements in global trade have opened up new and developing markets across the world, but they’ve also brought Arkansas’ timber producers competition from international organizations, including many who don’t play by the rules. Support for international conservation efforts designed to combat illegal trade and prevent deforestation is vital to enforcing responsible timber management abroad, protecting American exports, and supporting our state’s economy.
The forestry industry in Arkansas supports more than 66,000 jobs. And thanks to Arkansas loggers’ sustainable practices, our state’s forests have been preserved while supporting our economic growth. Today, U.S. wood exports are valued at over $40 billion dollars annually, and with smart investments in global conservation, that number can continue to grow.
Protecting our environment and supporting our foresters are not at odds; in fact, they’re part of the same mission. Arkansas foresters actively participate in stewardship programs including the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS). Investments in sustainability practices help our forests thrive and ensure logging doesn’t lead to deforestation. This practice keeps our own environment healthy, ensuring our communities have access to clean water while helping to preserve wildlife. And it also prevents the depletion of our natural resources, ensuring loggers can continue their work in the future. But Arkansas’ foresters rely on foreign producers to follow the same regulations. Unfortunately, without conservation efforts overseas, many international producers over-harvest and illegally log, driving down timber prices and putting Arkansas’ foresters at risk.
Illegal timber is no small issue. Globally, the USAID estimates it costs between $50 billion and $150 billion every year, lowering the price of timber from legal companies both in developing countries and the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than 242,000 U.S. jobs have been lost in the logging, wood, paper, and cabinetry industries since 2006, hitting forestry-focused regions like Arkansas incredibly hard.
Today, a fraction of one percent of our federal budget goes to international conservation efforts. But for that investment, we see billions of dollars in returns and a renewed peace of mind for communities like mine who know that their industry is protected from bad actors.
In my own service work as a mission director, I’ve seen the ways in which human security and natural conservation are entwined. When we invest in conservation work internationally, we can guarantee that other countries are playing by the rules of the game, logging in a way that protects our shared environment, keeps Arkansas’ producers in business, and preserves the logging industry for the long term.
Elected officials should support programs that ensure other countries play by the rules so that American producers get a fair deal. That’s something we can all agree on, and it’s important that our elected officials in Congress, including Sen. Boozman, continue to support international conservation programs that will open markets for Arkansas timber, preserve and create jobs, and protect Arkansas’ forest industry from unfair economic competition.
Editor’s note: Rep. Kenneth Bragg, R-Sheridan, is serving his fourth term in the Arkansas House of Representatives. The views expressed are those of the author.