Charles Purtle returned to his family’s Prescott farm in 1980 after years as a Baptist missionary in the Dominican Republic. Studying the 1200-acre farm, he was drawn to its indigenous crop: trees. “I started to learn everything I could about forestry and tree health,” remembers Purtle.
Arkansas has 18.9 million acres of forest, about 57 percent of the state’s total land area. Depleted by timbering practices of the early 1900s, Arkansas forests began recovering in the 1930s, as landowners, government and industry realized the necessity of forest health.
“Everything we do in the timber and forest products industry has to go back to perpetuating the healthy forest,” says Max Braswell, Arkansas Forestry Association executive vice president. “From the person who is growing the trees to the logger to the forest products manufacturers – those folks are contributing to sustainable forests in Arkansas,” he says.
Sustainable forests can create economic health. Forest product businesses supported more than 26,000 jobs in 2012, generating almost $2.9 billion in annual economic impact. “More and more consumers are looking for forest products that can be certified as sustainably grown,” says Braswell.
Woodland owners, timber harvesters and manufacturers participate in a variety of sustainability certification programs. These include the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), American Tree Farm System, and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification – all well-known and respected, nationally and globally, with stringent standards that ensure sustainability.
Purtle, whose property is a certified Tree Farm, also received FSC certification in 2012. “We didn’t have to change our management practices at all for the certification,” says Purtle, “we just have to document more what we were already doing.”
Most of what he “was already doing” focused on forest health. “I like to plant tree varieties selected for disease and insect resistance and straight, healthy growth,” says Purtle. In 1980, the farm had 400 acres of open ground; he has since planted most of that back into trees. Though pruning young pine planting may be labor-intensive, he says pruning improves tree health and timber quality.
Such efforts make sense. “As long as you continue to invest in good sound forest management, you’re going to have healthy forests providing everything that anyone who loves our Arkansas forests is looking for,” says Braswell.
For Purtle, that means managing forests not only as a sustainable source of farm income, but also for guests to visit and explore at their own pace. “We do enjoy sharing the farm,” he says. “I like to think we hold the land with an open hand, so that everyone might benefit.”