Members of the Arkansas Legislature have created a forestry caucus to advance policies benefiting the state’s forestry industry.

The caucus includes 19 state senators and 67 state representatives. State Sen. Ben Gilmore (R- Crossett) and state Rep. Howard M. Beaty, Jr. (R-Crossett) will serve as co-chairs with state Sen. Charles Beckham (R–McNeil) and state Rep. Jeff Wardlaw (R–Hermitage) serving as vice chairs.

“I am encouraged by the many legislators who have decided to join the Forestry Caucus,” said Gilmore. “Forestry plays a significant role in Arkansas’ economy, especially in our rural communities. It is critical we advance policies that will help our state’s most important industries – forestry. This past session we were able to advocate for the creation of the Center for Forest Business at the University of Arkansas at Monticello’s College of Forestry, Agriculture, and Natural Resources.”

A caucus related to the state’s forestry is past due, according to Beatty.

“It is past time we have a Forestry Caucus that will look toward passing more legislation to help economic development efforts and expand the growth of our forestry sector in our state,” he said. “Arkansas’ forests cover 18.9 million acres, or 56 percent of the state, and has more than 1.2 billion tons of standing timber.”

A number of leaders in the forestry industry weighed in on the creation of the caucus, including U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Arkansas’ fourth congressional district and the only forester in Congress.

“As the only forester in the United States Congress, I understand the importance of well-managed forests and their impact on our environment, our community, and our economy,” Westerman said. “Forestry is a vital industry in the great state of Arkansas, and I am glad the Forest Caucus will provide an avenue for the state legislature to discuss the economic and environmental impacts of proper forest management, the need for sustainable forestry, and innovative ways to incorporate forest products into daily life. I am grateful for the efforts of State Senator Ben Gilmore and State Representative Howard Beaty to bring this caucus to life, and I am confident this will be a valuable forum to discuss policies that promote working forests, our nation’s number one renewable resource.”

Max Braswell, executive director of the Arkansas Forestry Association, said the forestry caucus has the potential to be one of the most important he’s seen in his more than 30 years in the timber and forest products sector.

“Our ability to work together in Arkansas is known nationwide,” Braswell said. “The support and partnership of our legislative leaders will only enhance the multitude of opportunities we have to make working forests a ‘part of the solution’ – whether it’s as a natural climate solution, economic driver for rural communities or in keeping our natural state natural. These are exciting times and AFA fully supports the creation of a forestry caucus.”

Pointing out that Arkansas’ forestry industry ranks third in the nation and contributes nearly $5 billion annually to the state’s economy, Rich Hillman, president of Arkansas Farm Bureau, said the forestry industry is an “incredibly important part” of the state’s “agriculture portfolio” and Farm Bureau looks forward to “working with policymakers to expand an industry so crucial to our state.”

“Timber harvesters are part of a sector dedicated to growing sustainable forests that support communities, jobs, and the thousands of products we use every day. Active forest management keeps acres in trees – providing a range of environmental, conservation, and climate values for generations to come. Good things can happen when we shop up, take on leadership roles, and work collaboratively to sustain and promote one of the state’s most economically important agricultural industries,” said Larry Boccarossa, executive director of the Arkansas Timber Producers Association.

In addition to chairs, Gilmore and Beaty and vice chairs, Beckham and Wardlaw, the forestry caucus includes the following members:

State Sens. Ronald Caldwell, Blake Johnson, Linda Chesterfield, Mark Johnson, Alan Clark, Greg Leding, Breanne Davis, Mat Pitsch, Joyce Elliott, Terry Rice, Jane English, Bill Sample, Kim Hammer, Dan Sullivan, Bart Hester, Dave Wallace, Missy Irvin; and

State Reps. Sonia Barker, Cameron Cooper, Michelle Gray, Julie Mayberry, Matthew Shepherd, Rick Beck, Bruce Cozart, Delia Haak, Rick McClure, Keith Slape, Mary Bentley, Carol Dalby, Spencer Hawks, Austin McCollum, Brandt Smith, Mark Berry, Marsh Davis, David Hillman, Mark McElroy, Nelda Speaks, Stan Berry, Gary Deffenbaugh, Mike Holcomb, Richard McGrew, David Tollett, Justin Boyd, Jim Dotson, Steve Hollowell, Ron McNair, Dwight Tosh, Ken Bragg, Jon Eubanks, Lane Jean, Jon Milligan, Kendon Underwood, Harlan Breaux, Brian Evans, Joe Jett, John Payton, DeAnn Vaught, Keith Brooks, David Fielding, Lee Johnson, Mark Perry, Les Warren, Karilyn Brown, Charlene Fite, Jack Ladyman, Aaron Pilkington, Danny Watson, John Carr, Jack Fortner, Mark Lowery, David Ray, Carlton Wing, Fran Cavenaugh, Tony Furman, Robin Lundstrum, Marcus Richmond, Richard Womack, Craig Christian, Justin Gonzales, John Maddox, Johnny Rye and Jim Wooten.