To the amazement of many Oklahomans, more than 12 million acres of forestland cover about 27% of the state’s landscape.
Those pines and hardwoods create a robust industry for forest products and recreation with a surprising $5.1 billion annual economic impact to Oklahoma, according to Oklahoma State University. More than 19,300 people work in the forestry industry in the state. It is home to the world’s largest paper mill in Valliant and North America’s largest oriented strand board (OSB) plant in Broken Bow.
“People usually think of Oklahoma as a prairie state, but it’s so much more,” says Mark Goeller, state forester and director of Oklahoma Forestry Services, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. “I think people would be surprised if they really started to mine into forestry and look at the benefits. It really has a tremendous impact on the overall quality of life and economics of Oklahoma.”
Center Teaches About Forest History and the Industry’s Future
Oklahoma is one of only four states with more than 10 ecological regions. It is possible Oklahomans who live in the grasslands of western Oklahoma may not realize the industry surrounding the lush forests covering the hills in the eastern part of the state.
The Forest Heritage Center Museum annually welcomes 150,000 visitors at their location north of Broken Bow in Beavers Bend State Park, one of the most popular state parks in Oklahoma. Tucked away in the mountainous region of southeast Oklahoma, the center showcases the past and future of Oklahoma forestry, says Doug Zook, the center’s program director.
“We want visitors to walk away with that message of forestry, that good things come from trees, that trees are a renewable product,” Zook says. “We’re right down here in the heart of pine country with all of these local industries. We are the center hub and one of the faces of forestry to the public.”
Open daily, the Forest Heritage Center Museum offers trail maps and information on the amenities of Beavers Bend State Park. While there, visitors stumble upon the museum’s focal point: 14 large dioramas lining the circular building. Designed by Smokey Bear artist Harry Rossoll, the dioramas educate guests about prehistoric forests, Caddo Indians, papermaking, 1940s lumbering and forest appreciation.
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The educational center shares information about best management practices and local industries, like manufacturers of OSB, fiberboard and paper products. Its programming includes forestry youth camps, custom tours and sponsorship of woodturning classes at local schools. The center also hosts several art shows, including the popular Beavers Bend Folk Festival featuring turn-of-the-century folk artists and demonstrators every November.
“If people just happen upon the Heritage Center, they’re always surprised and plan trips back to spend more time,” Zook says.
Forests Provide Multiple Benefits
Logging companies harvest the state’s most valuable wood from the oak-pine forests in southeastern Oklahoma, home to major forest product manufacturers like International Paper and J.M. Huber Corporation. People commonly consider eastern redcedar the most populous tree in Oklahoma. Post oak is the most widespread, Goeller says.
Less tangible, though, are the environmental and emotional benefits to the state’s forestland. Clean water and air, erosion control and wildlife habitat benefit the land, humans and animals alike. Forested areas can serve as windbreaks and farmers can practice agroforestry, such as incorporating pecan trees with cattle pastures. Besides providing a great setting for recreation, studies show the presence of trees generates emotional health benefits.
“It’s hard to pin down one particular thing,” Goeller says. “The importance of forests in Oklahoma is so broad.”