By Sean Hubbard

STILLWATER, Okla.  Do not believe the rumors. Money actually does grow on trees, or least there is money in trees.

Any plant or animal that can be grown extensively for profit or subsistence is a crop. The loblolly pine tree is an often overlooked, but important, crop grown in Oklahoma. While wheat is typically considered king of the crop world in the state, in reality, loblolly pine is the most valuable, according to the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

“The recent economic impact analysis of Oklahoma forestry shows timber harvest, of which loblolly pine is by far the primary species of commercial use, had a direct economic impact of $2.9 billion to Oklahoma and the total economic impact was estimated at $4.5 billion annually,” said Dwayne Elmore, OSU Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist. “This is particularity impressive considering the vast majority of commercial forestry is confined to southeastern Oklahoma.”

Approximately 1 million acres of Oklahoma’s 7.3 million acres of timberlands (16 percent of state land) are dedicated to loblolly pine trees that are grown in planted and managed stands. The forestry industry not only produces direct impacts like paper, furniture and other wood products, but also directly and indirectly employs approximately 18,000 people in the state and generates secondary benefits for Oklahoma.

“Commercial forests also provide important wildlife habitat,” Elmore said. “This is noteworthy as the total value of hunting and fishing to Oklahoma is over $1 billion annually. For comparison, this is about twice the annual sales of wheat in Oklahoma.”

Southeastern Oklahoma, the area where most commercial timber is harvested in the state, provides ample recreational opportunities to visitors from major metro areas in the region, including Tulsa, Oklahoma City and the Dallas/ Ft. Worth area.

According to a 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, 11.5 million people 16 years and older went hunting in the United States. Regardless of the species hunted, an average of 16 days was used pursuing wild game, resulting in more than $25.6 billion spent on trips, equipment, licenses and other items to support their activities.

In Oklahoma, 244,000 people went hunting, spending more than $355 million annually. Fishing in the state is even more popular and produces a $730.5 million impact to the state with nearly 730,000 people participating.

While those numbers are significant, there is even a greater economic impact made by those who simply watch wildlife. Nearly 87 million Americans fed, photographed and observed wildlife in 2016, according to that same U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report. They spent $75.9 billion on their activities.

For Oklahoma, 1.26 million people participated in wildlife watching, creating a nearly $475 million impact to the state’s economy.

“Timber and wildlife are often overlooked resources in Oklahoma,” Elmore said. “How we steward these resources not only affects our quality of life, they are major economic drivers that should be considered in decision making.”

Source: Oklahoma State University