Drought severity across Arkansas during 2010 and 2011 is presented using U.S. Drought Monitor data in Figure 2 (National Drought Mitigation Center, 2012).

Drought severity is presented for two points in time, October 26, 2010 and November 1, 2011, roughly one year apart. Drought conditions ranged from severe to extreme in eastern and southern Arkansas during 2010, while drought conditions were extreme to exceptional in southwest Arkansas during 2011. In both years, the majority of the state was under moderate to extreme drought. It is evident from the data reported in Figure 2 that drought effects were most acute in the southern portion of the state, where drought effects ranged from severe to extreme during both years.

Drought impacts on trees and forestry industry costs

The areas of the state most severely affected by drought during 2010 and 2011 are heavily forested and have a large commercial timberland presence. Prolonged drought impacts trees through both stress and wildfires. Trees become drought stressed when there is not enough moisture in the soil to replace lost water leaving them vulnerable to insect pests, disease, death and fire. Severely drought stressed trees can die off four to five years after the initial drought period. There are no good numbers to quantify trees succumbing to drought stress in 2010 and 2011, but an estimated 10 to 15% of trees along I-30 between Arkadelphia and Texarkana, Arkansas have likely died due to drought stress (J. Barry, personal communication, January 19, 2012).

Wildfires are also more prevalent during periods of drought. The numbers of forest acres affected by wildfires in Arkansas per year for the period 2002 through 2011 are presented in Figure 3 (Arkansas Forestry Commission, 2012). The ten-year average for the period is 26 thousand acres. Affected acres for both 2010 and 2011 were above the ten-year average, as were affected acres in both 2005 and 2006, which were also dry years on record in Arkansas (NOAA, 2005; NOAA, 2006). Forest acres affected by wildfire per month for 2010 and 2011 are presented in Figure 4 (Arkansas Forestry Commission, 2012).

Most of these wildfires occurred in the south and southwestern portions of the state where drought conditions were most acute in 2010 and 2011 and where most of the commercial timberland is harvested in the state. The recent drought has impacted the forest industry in Arkansas through loss of harvesting jobs and timber value, increased reforestation costs and increased wildfire control cost along with the lost environmental benefits of living forests. Reforestation is one way to replace commercially harvested timber, but drought can also increase the need for reforestation. Drought can necessitate the need for reseeding on stands that have already been reforested. Reforestation is costly, and the current drought is expected to have a major impact on reforestation efforts of both hardwoods and pine trees in Arkansas (M. Pelkki, personal communication, July 31, 2012).

The cost of combating and controlling wildfires also increases with drought. Recent changes in commercial timberland ownership in the state have affected wildfire control. Over the past decade, timberland ownership in Arkansas and the South has shifted largely away from vertically integrated forest products companies to institutional investors (M. Pelkki, personal communication, July 31, 2012). The primary driver of this ownership shift has been increased tax efficiency from moving to Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). These changes in timberland ownership have indirectly impacted the way wildfires are controlled in Arkansas. Most of the former vertically integrated forest product companies had firefighting components included to combat and control wildfires, whereas the new timberland owners do not. The cost of wildfire control is increasingly being born by both the Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) and local fire departments, and funding and resources (firefighter manpower for the AFC and equipment limitations for local fire departments) for both entities is limited (M. Pelkki, personal communication, July 31, 2012).