The Arkansas Forestry Commission marks its 80th anniversary this year. As stewards of our environment, they have led the effort of preserving, protecting and restoring the approximately 18.5 million acres of forestland in our State. They manage our private and public forest lands with a commitment to sustainability, while maintaining Arkansas's largest manufacturing sector. The forest-products industry directly employs more than 30,000 Arkansans and contributes more than $1.5-billion in payroll to our economy every year.
The service most of us best know the Forestry Commission for is its fighting and preventing of fires. So far this year, below-average rainfall, low humidity and high winds have created especially dangerous conditions for wildfires. The AFC has responded to 300 fires that have burned more than 9,000 acres in March alone. This past week, AFC crews were on scene fighting 56 fires in a single day. Working in dangerous conditions at all hours, the extraordinary individuals who man the fire crews work on the ground and in the air to limit the destruction these wildfires cause.
In addition to its rapid-response efforts, the Commission also works with communities and local fire departments throughout Arkansas, helping them respond to wildfires. Through the Arkansas FireWise program, 135 local communities are learning how to manage and protect our densely-wooded landscape.
The AFC also provides information to home-owners who live in high-risk areas to help them prepare for the threat of wildfires. And the Commission educates our students about the many opportunities that our forestlands hold and teaches them its importance to Arkansas's heritage.
Forestry has been a vital component of Arkansas's economy for more than a century, and the AFC is working to ensure that this industry will continue to flourish for years to come. While wildfires are always a hazard, insects and disease can be equally destructive to forests, and the Commission watches constantly to head off significant outbreaks and blights.
Since its inception, the AFC has also grown and has distributed more than one billion trees to ensure that our state forests will remain a strong resource. More than half of Arkansas's forests are privately-owned, so it is critically important that we encourage best management practices and help landowners continue responsible stewardship of forestlands.
Every Arkansan can join the Forestry Commission's efforts during this fire season and year-round. While wildfires occur naturally in our environment, many fires begin with human actions. Be mindful of local burn bans and avoid burning when winds are gusty. Arkansas's forests are vital to the health and future of our State, and we must ensure that they continue to thrive. While protecting our forests has been the proud duty of the Arkansas Forestry Commission for 80 years now, we all share the responsibility of preserving these natural resources for future generations.