Our “Meet the State Forester” blog series introduces readers to the southern state foresters who are collectively responsible for leading the conservation, protection and enhancement of more than 245 million forested acres in the U.S. South. This month, we meet Arkansas State Forester, Joe Fox.
As Arkansas’ State Forester, Joe Fox directs the Forestry Division of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture. He joined the division in May of 2012. Preceding the appointment to State Forester, he was the Director of Conservation Forestry for the Arkansas Field Office of The Nature Conservancy. There, he directed and promoted conservation forestry project development, conservation planning and forest land acquisition throughout the state. Fox is a native Arkansan who worked as a procurement forester in a family-owned lumber business in Pine Bluff and Sheridan for over twenty years. Fox formerly served on the Jefferson County Conservation District Board and as Forestry Committee Chair of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts. He is a former president of the Arkansas Forestry Association and former chairman of the Arkansas Forestry Commission. He currently serves as the Past President of the National Association of State Foresters. He holds two bachelor’s degrees from North Carolina State University in forestry and agricultural economics. Joe is married to Louise with five grown children and ten grandchildren.
What is your agency’s mission statement?
Our mission is to protect Arkansas’ forests, and those who enjoy them, from wildland fire and natural hazards while promoting rural and urban forest health, stewardship, development and conservation for all generations of Arkansans.
Why did you become a forester?
I was third generation in the lumber business. My dad and granddad both were college graduates and worked in the woods buying logs and getting them to the mill. Neither had a forestry degree. I, to this day, want to be like my dad and granddad! So, I chose to be the first to go to forestry school. I am a proud graduate of NC State!
In your opinion, what is the biggest issue impacting forest landowners in Arkansas and across the southern region?
There are two… First is conversion of forestland to other uses. It’s not happening as fast in Arkansas as some other states, but it is happening. Population growth is a thing we cannot stop. The dollar value of bare land in other uses is skewed away from forests today. We need to change that. Second is maintaining and building markets for our trees. We are “overgrowing” our markets (demand) currently in Arkansas by more than 20 million tons annually. If that remains for a couple of decades, southern pine beetle or wildfire or another “natural” calamity will take our forests.
What is your favorite thing about the forests in Arkansas?
Just one? Oh my! The variety of trees and habitat, the scenery, the fall colors, turkeys, the smell walking in the woods, the look on my grandchildren’s face when they find a lizard under a fallen tree, the waterfalls, listening to a feller-buncher do its work, watching a Mississippi Kite do its work, and so much more!
How is forestry important to the economy of Arkansas?
Over 55% of Arkansas’ landmass is forested with just over 19 million acres of forests in the state. Forestry’s total impact on Arkansas and its economy is valued at $5.5 billion.
What is your favorite thing to do while in the forest?
Although most of my time spent in forests is on the job, I do love being out there. Especially now that most of my work is done behind a desk. But my favorite part of being in the forests is seeing all the people (foresters, loggers, dozer operators, drone pilots, drip torch operators, turkey callers, etc.) practice their skills.
What are the top five goals for your agency over the next 5-10 years?
- Recruiting talented staff.
- Training current and future staff.
- Keeping up with the times, modernizing our tools as technology improves. Technology is advancing and its very important that we take advantage of that. Whether it’s via drones or handheld devices for inventory and mapping, it’s important that we change with the times, and utilize available technology.
- As the population of Arkansas grows and changes, it’s important that we do the same with our programs. With the direction our population is going, I’d like to expand two programs, the first being our Urban Forestry program. As a lot of Arkansans shift to larger cities, I’d like to ensure we’re being as proactive in urban communities as we can. Also, as our population continues to grow, forestland will be flipped and used for other purposes, making existing forestland more valuable. For this reason, I’d like to expand our Poison Springs State Forest demonstration site to continue to educate landowners on Best Management Practices for their land.
- I’d like to dedicate more of our resources to working with underserved landowners. Increasing outreach efforts for minority landowners goes hand in hand with our mission of promoting the health of Arkansas’ forests.
Why are the adoption of forestry Best Management Practices (BMPs) important to the state of Arkansas?
We work with several partners in the development of and training on BMPs in Arkansas. BMPs are voluntary in our state. The last time we monitored management practices, we had a 93% implementation rate for BMPs. This is very important to the conservation of Arkansas’ forests and it’s very important to the marketability of Arkansas forestry products. Implementing BMPs allows landowners and manufacturers to market our products as environmentally sustainable around the world.
How is your agency working with communities and municipalities to encourage forestland retention?
Our agency partners with and facilitates the Arkansas Urban Forestry Council. Our Urban Forestry program assists and encourages communities in the planning and retention of greenspaces. A good example of this is the Razorback Greenway, an off-road shared-use trail in Northwest Arkansas that stretches 37.6 miles.
How is prescribed fire important to the landscape of Arkansas?
Fire is a natural part of Arkansas forests. To have healthy and vibrant forests in Arkansas, you need two things: thinning and prescribed fire. Prescribed fire promotes the best wildlife habitat a landowner can have. Prescribed fire is an absolute necessity in Arkansas.
What is your favorite tree species?
The Cherrybark Oak. It is a gorgeous, valuable tree in the river bottoms of Arkansas. It will grow more money in less time than any other tree in the state when grown on the correct site. But mainly, it is a gorgeous tree.
How does your agency work with local and municipal partners to conserve Arkansas’ forests?
In addition to working with partners to support forestland retention, we work very closely with over 900 rural and urban fire departments across the state. The partnerships are very important to our success in wildfire response. For every fire we go to, there are five more that that local fire departments have already taken care of before we even hear about them. Off the top of my head, I would say maybe half of the fires we go to, local fire departments are either already there or they’re on the way.
What is your favorite native Arkansas animal?
Despite the feral hog problem in Arkansas, my favorite Arkansas animal would have to be the razorback, for obvious reasons. It’s ugly, loud and obnoxious but it’s fierce and never gives up.
What are some of the biggest forest health challenges in Arkansas and how is your agency working to address them?
Although I do love razorbacks, feral hogs have become a major issue here in Arkansas and they can wreck acres overnight. We’re currently partnering with the Arkansas Feral Hog Eradication Task Force, along with 21 other federal and state agencies and non-government organizations to help landowners solve these problems.
Also, the ips beetle is becoming an issue in our state. With dry weather and warm winters, we’ve seen an increased number of infestations. Our Forest Health Specialists are working with landowners to detect signs of infestations and handle them quickly.
What is your agency doing to support the use of trees and forest products as a carbon solution?
We put a lot of work into education and outreach to teach people how valuable trees are in respect to carbon. We put out a lot of resources on the topic. Also, we’re staying abreast of opportunities for landowners to sell carbon credits. Although that market is still too new, we’re staying educated on the topic to share that information with landowners.
Smokey Bear or Woodsy Owl?
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll just share this photo of my favorite socks.
What is one thing you want people to know about your agency?
I wish people knew how dedicated, talented and genuinely awesome our local, district and program staff are. The Arkansas Forestry Division is truly blessed with very gifted and motivated people.
What is the best thing about being the Arkansas State Forester?
The best thing about being the Arkansas State Forester is working with all our friends, old and new, in the Arkansas forestry community. Our staff, partners, landowners, loggers and the many, many wonderful friends who love our forests keep me excited about getting up every morning and being State Forester.