It was fried chicken and seasoned cabbage day at the Grider Field restaurant Thursday when U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman and U.S. Sen. John Boozman visited for lunch after a tour of the Highland Pellets plant in Pine Bluff.

“I think they are running out of food,” Boozman joked. “It just smells so good.”

The pair came to Jefferson County as part of a larger tour of the timber industry in Arkansas.

Dubbed #Seed2SawmillTour, the event began on Aug. 30 to promote forest health and tout the economic benefits of forestry to the state of Arkansas. In addition to Pine Bluff, Boozman and Westerman have visited El Dorado, Emerson, Warren, Monticello and Crossett.

Westerman, the only professional forester in Congress, lead the tour through counties in his Fourth Congressional District. In addition to an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Arkansas, Westerman holds a master’s degree in forestry from Yale University.

“Trees are America’s number one renewable resource,” Westerman said. “Healthy forests provide clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, and beautiful vistas. But healthy forests don’t just happen. A wide range of professionals from research scientists and foresters to technicians, loggers, machinery operators and the remaining 28,000 Arkansans employed in forestry and its related mills and processing facilities all play a key part in healthy forests in the Natural State.”

Boozman added that “the timber industry generates over $3 billion a year for our state’s economy and supports jobs for thousands of Arkansans. Its impact on our economy cannot be overstated. That’s why it is important that Congressman Westerman and I take this opportunity to visit our timber farms, mills, and factories to speak directly with those whose livelihoods are tied to the decisions we make in Washington. We need to hear from them about what Congress should be doing to help this important industry continue to thrive in Arkansas.”

According to the Arkansas Forestry Association, 28,057 Arkansans are directly employed in the forestry and forest products industry with an average annual income of more than $49,000. The Arkansas Forest Resources Center reports an additional 41,755 indirect and induced jobs resulting from the forestry industry. The total economic impact of forestry to the state of Arkansas is $3.2 billion, the AFA reports, while the AFSC notes an additional $3.4 billion in indirect and induced economic impact.

During the forestry tour, Boozman and Westerman have explored forestry from the birth of a tree through its lifecycle, including its use in forest products such as paper and building materials. The tour also featured proper forest management and the positive environmental impacts achieved through conservation efforts.