Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
But some groups still have concerns
by Ashton Eley
The National Forest Service plans to move forward with a wide variety of proposed activities at Robert's Gap, though some environmental groups remain concerned about the possibility of negative ecological effects.
The Robert's Gap Project spans 39,697 acres in the northwest corner of the Big Piney Ranger District in Newton and Madison counties, including the headwaters of the Kings, White and Buffalo rivers. It has been three years in the making and includes commercial timber harvesting, prescribed burning, wildlife activities and mountain bike trail improvements and additions.
The goals of the project are to increase species diversity on the land and to protect adjacent private property, said Tim Jones, Big Piney District ranger.
"Overall, the Forest Service long-term goal is the productivity and health and diversity across this landscape. This plan implements that," he said.
The Ozark Society, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and National Parks Conservation Association have each written objections to most aspects of the project, raising concerns about protecting water quality and native species, including the endangered bat populations.
"Our biggest concern is with the cumulative effects of this pretty large project. This is at the headwaters of two of Arkansas' most important recreational streams -- the Kings River and the Buffalo River -- and adjacent to the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area," said Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which submitted its latest objection letter May 20.
The first public notice of the project came in January 2018. Since then, the Forest Service has held two public meetings, notified neighboring landowners, met with local officials and consulted other state and federal agencies as well as advocacy organizations.
"The initial proposal was based on the best science available," Jones said. "The public involvement led to the development of a different alternative that the public has helped shape and has been a big help."
Changes to the initial proposal included cutting down on herbicides from 18.2% to 7.7% of the area and shifting to more spot and manual treatment methods. The herbicides are used to control invasive or encroaching plant species.
"We would really rather them eliminate the use of herbicides altogether because of risks involved in a primary contact waterway that's used by millions of people," Watkins said.
More than 10,000 acres of prescribed burns were proposed to help reduce overcrowded vegetation that can lead to wildfires and also limit diversity of the forest floor, Jones said. However, Ozark Society President David Peterson said it can be irritating to those in the area and may not do as much good for the forest as some think.
The watershed alliance voiced concerns in its letter about how the proposals could affect bat populations as well as their food sources in the area. The Forest Service plans to take precautions in known maternity roost sites and to avoid burning during pup season.
Erosion in these steep areas into the waterways has been a point both for and against parts of the project. According to the Forest Service's assessment, roads and trails and the adjacent areas proposed for reconstruction, maintenance, closure and decommissioning would continue to deteriorate if nothing were done.
New, temporary roads would be created for the proposed timber harvesting. These proposed 38 miles of road, along with 20 miles of burn-control lines, could lead to more erosion, Watkins said.
"Any logging road you build creates erosion problems. We asked them to limit the amount of road work," Peterson said. "[Overall] it isn't ideal from our point of view, but it isn't too bad."
The alliance would like the Forest Service to complete an updated environmental impact statement, which would be more extensive than the assessment published in March, Watkins said.
Recreational interest in the area is high, Jones said. About 40,000 people hike the trails each year, according to pre-pandemic Forest Service estimates.
"With covid, we've seen an uptick in visitation to national forests all across the country," he said.
Residents have complained about some visitors parking on their private properties, Jones said. The Forest Service plans to add about 50 parking spaces at Hawksbill Crag along the west side of Cave Mountain Road by widening the road up to 30 feet.
It also plans to modify some trails based on use and maintenance resources.
The area also attracts mountain bikers from around the U.S. who are looking for the backcountry experience offered by the 35-mile Buffalo Headwaters Mountain Bike Trail. During the last weekend in January, 300-400 riders visited for the Headwaters Challenge -- three days of rides and camping hosted by the Ozark Off Road Cyclists.
The Robert's Gap Project includes construction of nearly 14 miles of mountain bike trail, the majority of which would be easy to moderate in difficulty level. It would also remove more than 8 miles of trail that is currently on county and Forest Service system roads.
This is a decrease from the original proposal of 24 miles of new trails because of public input, according to the Forest Service.
"It's very steep and subject to erosion. The bike trails they have now seem pretty well-designed, but if you put more and more bike trails, then it will become something other than a natural area," Peterson said.
Although compromises were made, the current plan will still lead to better trail alignment and take away the risk of riding on the road, said David VanSandt, president of Ozark Off Road Cyclists.
The nonprofit will oversee the additions with grant funding and continue to maintain the system by hand, which it does with the help of volunteers.
The public commentary period on the proposal ends today. More information can be found and comments can be submitted at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=53597.
The Forest Service plans to start implementing parts of the project as early as this fall.
By JACQUELINE FROELICH
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is calling forpublic comment on a proposal to remove the term “karst” from its National Handbook of Conservation Practices, regarding sinkholes. Ozarks environmental consultant Dane Schumacher says karst designations are critical to conserving watersheds. The deadline to comment is Thursday, Apr. 8, 2021. Submit your comments here
In January 2020, a pork corporation came knocking in Livingston County.
United Hog Systems notified nearby landowners that they were filing an application for a 5,700-hog operation.
It was the first permit for a concentrated animal feeding operation, also known as a CAFO, issued for the northwest Missouri county in more than two decades.
The timing was no accident. State lawmakers had recently passed legislation that would wipe a 1997 county ordinance off the books that allowed local officials to regulate such operations and the millions of gallons of waste they produce.
When the Missouri Department of Natural Resources approved the United Hog permit in May of 2020, local residents banded together to file an appeal. They named themselves Poosey Neighbors United after their beloved nearby Poosey Conservation area. In addition to the list of common concerns raised when huge animal feeding operations move in nearby, they feared that mismanagement of the CAFO’s hog manure would compromise water quality in Poosey’s fishing lakes and perhaps even their own water supply.
A few months later, the state struck another blow. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources proposed a change to the regulatory definition of the groundwater table as it concerns CAFO designs. The change would exclude a form of groundwater called “perched water," which may be present on the proposed CAFO site.
“These rollbacks have been systematic,” said Susan Fair, a Livingston County resident advocating for stricter CAFO regulations. “And this won’t be the last of it.”
As industrial agriculture moved into the state in the 1990s, a handful of counties saw the need to create local regulations for CAFOs.
Livingston County was one of the earliest to pass such an ordinance, in 1997. Since then, a total of 20 counties have put similar health ordinances in place, though enforcement is varied.
“There was just an awful lot of things that DNR addressed that we thought needed to be stronger,” said Eva Danner Horton, former presiding commissioner in Livingston County.
Danner Horton was among the team of elected officials who drafted and signed the original ordinance and later revised it in 2009. She said it was never the intention of the commission to keep CAFOs out completely.
“The intent was to make them good neighbors,” Danner Horton said.
Compared to statewide regulations, the Livingston County ordinance provides stronger setback distances between CAFOs and residences. It also outlines the option for the commission to enforce groundwater and emissions monitoring. CAFO operators are required to furnish a surety bond between $15,000 and $100,000 to the county treasurer for manure storage systems to cover any future liability. Additionally, before the permit is approved, the county is required to hold a local public hearing.
In 2019, Senate Bill 391 passed, preempting local health ordinances like the one in Livingston County that are more stringent than statewide regulations. The law is being challenged in court by a small group of counties and concerned citizens, who are hoping, at the very least, that their local ordinances will be grandfathered in. Livingston County Presiding Commissioner Ed Douglas said he is glad to see the lawsuit but didn’t feel the need to join it.
As residents await the judgment, they face the reality of having little control over who moves in next door.
Bert Wire’s property is roughly 2,200 feet from the proposed CAFO site. He remembers the day he officially found out about the application through a letter in the mail, after hearing about the possibility around town for months.
“Nobody wants a CAFO in their own backyard,” Wire said. “I’ve been in the farming industry for over 40 years. I grew up on a dairy farm in Illinois. I’m used to the smell of livestock. But this is something completely different.”
Wire is referring to the odorous cocktail of particulate matter and pollutants such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide churned out of the massive hog barns by exhaust fans. After Wire and his neighbors appealed the initial United Hog permit granted by the Department of Natural Resources, the company withdrew its original application and submitted a new one for approximately 10,500 hogs, making it a Class 1B Operation. At that size, the CAFO would hold more than 8 million gallons of manure in a 12-foot-deep cemented underground storage pit roughly the area of two-and-a-half football fields.
The department requires that those pits must be at least two feet above the groundwater table. But, last spring, Wire and two neighbors had a hunch that groundwater was more accessible than United Hog Systems let on in their application.
At the time, one of his neighbors was renting a parcel of land on the proposed CAFO footprint. To investigate, they fixed a posthole digger to a skid loader and set out to dig a series of holes. Out of the six holes they dug at depths of two to three feet, four filled with water. To them, this was evidence that the groundwater table was accessible at shallow depths and that the CAFO construction would violate those regulations.
During the administrative court hearing, as part of the CAFO permit appeal process, Jeff Browning, an engineer hired by United Hog Systems, testified that based on the photo evidence, the water in the holes dug by the Poosey Neighbors group “look artificial.” But Browning also noted that the company hired to complete borings to determine groundwater depth had “hit a little perched water” during their site survey. Since then, many debates have ensued about perched water, and whether it could interfere with underground manure pits.
Those debates were amplified months later when the Missouri Clean Water Commission announced a plan to exclude perched water from the definition of the groundwater table used in CAFO design regulations. The Department of Natural Resources’ Water Protection Program Director Chris Wieberg said during a public meeting that they were attempting to fix an error discovered during the appeal process of the United Hog permit.
Perched groundwater occurs when a body of groundwater is sandwiched between two sections of unsaturated earth above the main body of groundwater. Perched water bodies can come and go depending on the season and amounts of precipitation. Sometimes perched water happens to be the only potable water supply available, meaning that some wells pull directly from it.
“You don’t know how deep perched water goes unless you install groundwater monitoring wells around the perimeter of the entire site and you take groundwater samples over an extended period of time,” said Stephen Jeffery, the lawyer representing Neighbors United and the challenge to SB 391. “From that data, you can make scientific conclusions. But right now, DNR is jumping the gun. They are reaching these conclusions, but they have no data to back it up.”
Opponents of this definition change also find it odd that the Department of Natural Resources is only attempting to exclude perched water from CAFO regulations, but that they are not advocating for a perched groundwater exemption for all waste containment design regulations.
A Department of Natural Resources spokesperson stated that the agency’s intention for the definition change is to correct an “inadvertent deletion” of the exemption to the groundwater table definition, which occurred during efforts to reduce “red tape” language while Eric Greitens was governor. The agency did not provide further comment to the Missourian.
Robert Brundage, a representative of the Missouri Pork Association and the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, has also spoken in favor of the definition change. During DNR's first public meeting on the issue, he stated that a failure to correct the inadvertent deletion is “not fair to the regulated community” who rely on clear definitions to conduct their business in accordance with state laws.
Brundage, who has also represented United Hog Systems in the past but did not provide comment to the Missourian about their pending application, also denied assertions that CAFOs pose a threat to groundwater.
“If it’s some kind of chronic problem that exists every single day that a CAFO is out there and operating, and they’ve been operating for years in the state of Missouri, where are all the people with their polluted wells and their health being impacted?” asked Brundage during the meeting. “We haven’t seen it.”
Wieberg echoed that sentiment. He said during the November meeting that DNR probably works two cases a year related to unintentional discharge of manure from transfer technologies or land application equipment.
“I can’t put my finger on or think towards a case that we worked where we had groundwater contamination as a result of a spill, and definitely not a result of a leak,” said Wieberg, in response to a question submitted by the public during the meeting.
Though there are no documented cases of groundwater contamination as a result of CAFO mismanagement or infrastructure failure, proponents for stricter regulations say that DNR is not looking closely enough.
DNR does not require ongoing groundwater monitoring for Class 1B or Class 1C CAFOs. This essentially means that they rely on operators to self-report when something goes awry. Danner Horton, the former Livingston County commissioner, says this is like having “the fox watch the chickens,” and it’s a big reason why she advocated for the ability for local officials to monitor CAFO sites while she was in office.
“When’s the last time you drove down the highway over the speed limit and said, ‘Well, now, I’m going to call the sheriff so he can sit and watch me?’” asked Wire. “(The operators) are not going to call DNR. They’re going to wait to respond until somebody like me raises hell.”
It’s not just spills or leaks that advocates worry about. Mismanagement of the millions of gallons of manure applied on nearby farm fields is also a point of concern, and there’s no shortage of documented cases. Advocates point toward a 10,000-gallon manure runoff event from a 5,600-hog CAFO in Callaway County in 2014, which made its way to a tributary of Millers Creek in the Mark Twain National Forest, resulting in a $12,000 fine, according to DNR documents.
Another incident in Audrain County led to more than 45,000 aquatic animals dying as a result of hog effluent discharged into Sandy Creek in 2018. A year later, another incident occurred along a tributary of the West Fork Cuivre River that resulted in a 3,300 fish kill. Neither Callaway nor Audrain counties had local health ordinances for CAFOs.
In other words, opponents of the proposed United Hog CAFO aren’t just worried about perched water. They argue a mismanagement incident of equivalent size could pollute their much beloved Poosey Conservation area, an approximately 6,000-acre site with hardwood forests, tallgrass prairie and several lakes for fishing.
“Our conservation areas are funded by the one-eighth cent sales tax that was passed in 1976,” said Doug Doughty, a row crop farmer with a small cow-calf herd in Livingston County. He is also a member of the Jackson Township board. “When you think about the millions of dollars that Missourians have invested into our conservation areas and state parks system, what are people going to do when CAFOs move in here like they did in Iowa and their outdoor experiences are not what they used to be?”
Hydrogeologists have also gotten involved in the debate. The Missouri section of the American Institute of Professional Geologists wrote a letter to urge Wieberg to create a working group of geologists and other qualified professionals to provide input on the proposed perched water exemption.
“Why did they make an exception to selectively exclude perched water?” asked Matthew Rhoades, president-elect of AIPG and a member of the Missouri section. “It doesn't make scientific sense. It doesn't make good technical sense. You wouldn't do that with any other kind of industrial facility.”
Rhoades, who describes himself as a “capitalist, pro-ag, pork guy,” said AIPG did not receive a response from DNR, although the offer still stands to create a working group of geologic experts to discuss the issue.
The Clean Water Commission not only moved forward with the definition change in mid-December, but they also invoked an emergency rule change that expedites the approval process. That move was quickly challenged in court and parties are awaiting the judgment. In the meantime, the public comment period is underway.
Opponents to the rule change say that this is just the most recent in a pattern of loosening statewide regulations for CAFOs.
“We’re seeing agribusiness corporations getting even more concentrated, so concentrated that they own and control huge percentages of commodity markets and industries,” said Tim Gibbons, communications director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. “And when you lose competition and you have huge amounts of corporate concentration, family farmers lose, consumers lose, our environment loses and our fight for democracy loses.”
State Rep. Rusty Black, R-Chillicothe, has property just a few miles from the proposed CAFO site in Livingston County. He says that while he doesn’t have an issue with CAFOs coming into his district, as a small-scale cattle farmer he recognizes the future implications of letting big agriculture operations take up space.
“I’ve been told I will live long enough to no longer be viable in the cattle business,” Black said. “I used to not think that was true, but since I’ve been here, maybe I’ll be able to raise cows for hobby, but me being able to sell is probably on its way out.”
Black said he would love for his grandchildren to experience the days he spent in his youth on his grandparent’s farm but agriculture is “ever evolving.”
Part of that evolution has been ushered in by Missouri lawmakers as they’ve opened their arms to agribusiness in the state.
But rural communities do not always experience the financial boom they’re promised when big agriculture operations move in. According to Livingston County Presiding Commissioner Ed Douglas, it remains unclear how many jobs will be created by the United Hog CAFO, how transportation infrastructure will be affected due to increased truck traffic and to what extent property values may decline over the long term in the areas surrounding the facilities.
“A lot of times CAFOs are actually extractive of the community’s resources and they’re actually going to impose more costs, especially to the taxpayer, for having to maintain the roads with all of these truckloads of animals or feed or tankers of manure,” said Ashlen Busick, a regional representative of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, an advocate for family farms. “These smaller communities and townships have to foot the bill for keeping up with road maintenance. They really have to carry the burden for the CAFO.”
Human health is also a factor in the argument to heavily regulate CAFOs. Some studies show that human proximity to CAFOs has been linked to exacerbated asthma symptoms and allergies, and the CDC reports that repeated exposure to emissions from CAFOs can increase a person’s likelihood of developing respiratory diseases.
But for some, the benefits of being a welcoming state to industrial agriculture far outweigh the potential risks. According to the MU Extension website, Missouri ranks in the top ten for pork production in the U.S., amounting to a nearly $1 billion industry for the state.
Ray Massey, professor of agricultural economics with MU Extension, said that few people raise small numbers of pigs these days because it’s difficult to make a profit on a small scale. “The larger you are, you can raise pigs for a lower price. Now, it doesn’t go on forever, but if you have 5,000 pigs you can raise them cheaper than if you had 1,000 pigs,” Massey said.
According to Massey, who has worked for MU Extension for 25 years, CAFOs provide some of the only agriculture jobs available in rural regions. “So do you want zero employment ... or do you want a business that will raise pigs, employ construction and feed manufacturers and veterinarians?” Massey asked.
It can be difficult to track CAFO contract arrangements because oftentimes U.S. companies own the land and the facilities but foreign corporations own the livestock. United Hog Systems, the company behind the Livingston County CAFO permit, is a domestic company based in Marshall, and the land the CAFO would be built on is managed by a firm based in Grower. These project stakeholders are not in Livingston County.
According to testimony in the administrative commission hearing regarding the appeal of United Hog's initial permit, Brazilian-based JBS owns the hogs in United Hog operations. JBS is a Brazilian corporation and the largest meat producer in the world. They received $78 million in U.S. bailout assistance in 2019, according to reporting by The Washington Post. The company has also been charged with price fixing, meat contamination and violating U.S. anti-corruption laws.
“Industrialization and corporate takeover of our livestock markets would not look the way it looks without a lot of unintentional backing by taxpayers. It’s all a setup game for them to control our food system,” Gibbons said.
Foreign ownership, diminished local control and jargon-filled regulatory debates inaccessible to most members of the public are intersecting issues that come with a globalized, industrial food system. But the future implications for Livingston County residents remain unknown.
“What’s going to happen to our town?” asked Susan Fair, a Livingston County resident organizing around these issues. “If we have no say, I mean, do they just get to do what they want? It makes me nervous, but we don’t have to just roll over.”
Ashlen Busick grew up about a mile from a 72-barn CAFO that housed 80,000 hogs in Putnam County, just a few hours northeast of Livingston County.
She remembers having to hold her breath as her school bus passed the CAFO each day to avoid the surrounding “blanket of stench.” Her family was one of the few opposed to its construction shortly after Missouri lawmakers opened up Putnam, Mercer and Sullivan counties to corporate farms through an exemption to the 1975 family farm law.
“When the CAFO was first proposed, I remember the divide beginning to grow,” said Busick, who is now a regional representative of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, an advocate for family farms. “Because my family chose to speak out against this CAFO being located near our farm, my family no longer felt welcome at our church. And people made threats. There’s a lot of that I’m actually still learning about because my parents shielded me from it.”
Chief among her family’s concerns was the impact corporate-backed farms would have on small farmer livelihoods. The presence of CAFOs in the United States has risen rapidly since the 1980s, when market-driven consolidation of livestock farms began forcing many small family farmers out of business, and legislators began introducing legislation to support those trends.
Since then, Missouri has lost 80% of its hog farmers.
by Rex Nelson
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was increased interest across Arkansas in preventing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from building a dam on the Buffalo River. On May 24, 1962, the first members of what would become known as the Ozark Society held an organizational meeting on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
Members of the Nature Conservancy were there that night to show a film about the float trip U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas had taken on the Buffalo earlier in the spring.
People were asked to pay $1 each to join the organization. A Bentonville doctor named Neil Compton was elected as the first president. Joe and Maxine Clark became editors of the Ozark Society Bulletin. A Little Rock chapter led by Charles Johnston Jr. was organized in February 1963.
The Ozark Society sponsored a float on the Buffalo in the spring of 1963. The first statewide meeting was held at Fort Smith that summer. Membership grew rapidly. The organization attracted national publicity and received the 1968 National Conservation Achievement Award.
The Ozark Society was successful in its primary mission. Not only was no dam built, Congress in 1972 established a new designation within the national park system. The Buffalo River became America's first national river, setting the stage for more to come. President Richard Nixon signed the bill in March 1972.
"What a lot of us forget when we're recreating on the 135 miles of this free-flowing river or the surrounding 95,000 acres is that before this was public land, it was people's homes and livelihoods," the National Park Service wrote in a social media post that marked the 49th anniversary of Nixon signing the bill. "Many of the trails you can enjoy here today were originally built by early settlers as roadways connecting their communities' homesteads, churches, farms, mines and mills. Many of the park's campgrounds used to be somebody's agricultural fields.
"Many bluff shelters and bottomlands were seasonal hunting camps for indigenous peoples. The river itself was a means of transportation and commerce, connecting rural communities along the Buffalo to larger outposts across the White and Mississippi River basins."
The society didn't simply bask in past successes. It attempted to prevent dams on other streams in Arkansas and led the fight for more public access to the Mulberry River. It lobbied for creation of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and passage of the Arkansas Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It worked in Washington to ensure that places in Arkansas were protected by the National Wilderness Acts of 1975 and 1983. Chapters were added in Missouri and Louisiana.
"The challenge goes on," Compton said. "There are other lands and rivers, other wilderness areas, to save and to share with all."
In 1975, the nonprofit Ozark Society Foundation was created to support the society's educational and recreational activities in the region. The foundation became a publisher of high-quality conservation and nature-related books. Since 1967, the society and foundation have produced more than two dozen publications. These include canoe and hiking guides, natural and cultural histories, and field guides.
The most recent publication is a monumental 520-page guide, "Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines of Arkansas." It will be the go-to guide for Arkansas trees for years to come. I think Compton, who died in February 1999 at age 86, would be pleased with this effort were he still around.
In writing and discussing Arkansas history, we tend to focus on political and business leaders. But Compton, who was born in August 1912 at Falling Springs Flats in Benton County, should be recognized alongside our greatest Arkansans ever for his efforts to preserve parts of what we now refer to as the Natural State. He had a deep love for the natural aspects of this state from the start.
Compton attended elementary school at Bozarth, a rural school near Gentry. After graduating from high school at Bentonville in 1931, Compton entered the UA. He graduated four years later with degrees in geology and zoology.
Compton married hiking and canoeing partner Laurene Putman of Bentonville in September 1935. In 1939, Compton graduated from medical school in Little Rock. After an internship in Camden, N.J., he went to work as a health officer in Bradley County and later Washington County for the state Board of Health.
He was a resident in obstetrics at St. Vincent Infirmary at Little Rock in 1948-49 after having served during World War II in the U.S. Navy. Following a long practice in the field of obstetrics and gynecology, Compton would often joke that he had "delivered enough babies to staff my own navy."
It's for his conservation efforts, though, that this avid hiker and canoeist will be remembered. That 1962 meeting at Waterman Hall on the UA campus was the start of a 12-year tenure as Ozark Society president.
A book titled "The High Ozarks: A Vision of Eden," which featured Compton's photographs, was published in 1982. In 1992, the University of Arkansas Press published his book "The Battle for the Buffalo River: A Conservation Crisis in the Ozarks." Five years later, the Ozark Society published Compton's "The Buffalo River in Black and White."
In September 1987, National Park Service director William Penn Mott appointed Compton an honorary national park ranger. It's fitting that after his death in 1999, his family chose to scatter some of his ashes in the Buffalo River.
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.
LITTLE ROCK — Landowners in the Buffalo River Watershed are eligible to receive assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture aimed at eradicating feral hog populations in the area.
Additionally, as part of the Buffalo River Watershed Enhancement Project, funding for conservation assistance is also currently available to landowners as well as agricultural producers in the watershed who are interested in implementing conservation practices to help maintain and improve water quality.
The sign-up period for conservation practices ends March 26, 2021. Interested landowners should check in with their local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service field office to apply.
John Pennington, extension water quality educator for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said there will be multiple sign-up opportunities for this special assistance over the next five years with up to $400,000 additional conservation funding available for qualifying landowners annually.
“The importance is that not only can these forms of conservation assistance help protect water quality in the watershed, but they can also improve farm profitability and habitat for native wildlife,” Pennington said. “Also of importance, this opportunity does not come around every day, or even very often.”
The Cooperative Extensions Service, part of the Division of Agriculture, is helping to provide site visits, outreach and information within the project area, as well as providing feral hog control informational resources.
While the funding is potentially available throughout the Buffalo River Watershed, priority areas are: Calf Creek, Bear Creek, Lower Big Creek, Tomahawk Creek and Brush Creek sub-watersheds in portions of Baxter, Marion, Pope, Searcy, Stone and Van Buren counties.
The funded conservation practices are intended to increase farm efficiency and reduce nutrients, sediment, and bacteria from moving off the landscape and into tributaries, and align with the recommendations from the Buffalo River Watershed Management Plan. Some examples of supported conservation practices include brush management, prescribed burning and pasture fencing.
To receive assistance with feral hog eradication, landowners should call the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Arkansas Wildlife Services at (501) 835-2318. Wildlife Service technicians use state-of-the-art technology, including remotely triggered enclosure gates, to trap and remove feral hogs from residents’ property.
Other agencies and organizations on the Arkansas Feral Hog Eradication Task Force are available to help. Residents who prefer to learn how to trap hogs themselves using new technologies, and are willing to host a field demonstration, or would like to pick up an Arkansas Feral Hog Handbook, contact your local county extension office (Uaex.uada.edu).
Other steps to help in the eradication of feral hogs and improvement of water quality are to report sightings and kills of feral hogs using the "Feral Hog Reporting Survey" app from the Arkansas Feral Hog Eradication Task Force, available at https://www.agriculture.arkansas.gov/arkansas-department-of-agriculture-services/feral-hog.
Newton County Times
By TERRI SMITH For the Newton County Times
The Jasper City Council met Thursday, Feb. 25 at City Hall.
Don Nelms, owner of the Buffalo River Theater will donate the building to be turned into a visitor’s center with public restrooms. He requests that a plaque be placed on the property honoring one of his businesses, announced Jasper Mayor Jan Larson. The city looks forward to putting the building to use, she told the council.. The council spoke of the possibility of allowing vendors to operate in the visitor center.
KUAF Public Radio includes an interview with BRWA
By JACQUELINE FROELICH • FEB 19, 2021
In the first months of his presidency, Donald Trump issued an executive order rescinding the “Waters of the United States” rule, promulagated by President Barak Obama in 2015 to protect certain streams, wetlands, and groundwater under the Clean Water Act. Now, President Joe Biden has ordered the rule to be reinstated. U.S. Senator John Boozman, (R-AR) claims it will devastate agriculture and industry. Arkansas water quality advocate, Gordon Watkins, says all U.S. waters require protection.
Listen to the story here
Newton County in the Buffalo River watershed is included in this program
by Doug Thompson | February 7, 2021
Owners of homes in Northwest Arkansas that have septic tanks will soon have help repairing and replacing them as part of an effort to protect the region's watersheds.
One-third of the state's population, or about 1.1 million people, depend on septic systems, said Richard McMullen, the state environmental health director. Even a tiny percentage of failing systems would affect thousands of people, he said.
The state Natural Resources Commission approved, for the first time, more than $2.5 million in taxpayer-funded, interest-free loans and some grants to address the problem, starting in Northwest Arkansas. McMullen hopes the program succeeds and can spread statewide.
The commission will evaluate the Northwest Arkansas' program after three years and consider expanding it to other particularly vulnerable watersheds, a spokesman for the commission said in a statement. A statewide program, however, is not something the commission can afford, the statement said.
Septic systems collect waste in underground tanks. The solids settle to the bottom and decompose. The liquid rises to the top and is filtered clean through soil after being dispersed through underground lines.
The Illinois River Watershed Partnership, a nonprofit, will administer the money for fixing septic systems in its watershed in Benton, Washington and Crawford counties. The group received a $281,885 grant and another $1 million in loan money.
Meanwhile, the Missouri-based Ozarks Water Watch will administer $1 million in loans with principal forgiveness and grants of $261,620 in the White River watershed in Benton, Washington, Madison, Carroll, Boone, Newton and Franklin counties.
The money will serve a real need after almost a year of the covid pandemic, said Jon Jouvenaux, owner of BBB Septic Solutions of Cave Springs.
"It's not like I need any more business. We're installing systems every day," Jouvenaux said. "But people who had really nice jobs have been out of work."
An expensive septic system repair hits people hard, especially retirees on fixed incomes who tend to have older systems reaching the end of their designed limits.
During these pandemic times with more people working from home and children attending virtual classes from home, some home septic systems are showing the strain, Jouvenaux said.
"The systems were only used in the evenings and at night before," he said. "Now they're being used all day long."
And, those systems won't recover quickly when the pandemic ends, he said.
"The only way they could stabilize is if the family took a long vacation and didn't use it at all for a couple of months," he said.
The Illinois and Ozarks groups are setting up their programs, administrators said. Both set March 1 as the target date to begin taking applications from septic system owners.
Benton County also has a program to help low-income residents pay for repairs. It's funded by federal taxpayer money, but on a much smaller scale.
The dividing line between the groups' two bordering watersheds runs along the top of high ground in Benton and Washington counties. The Illinois River flows west into Oklahoma. The watershed overseen by the Ozarks group largely goes into the eastward-running White River. That includes the watershed for Beaver Lake, the man-made source of most of Northwest Arkansas' drinking water.
Northwest Arkansas sits atop a limestone bed riven with cracks and caverns, known as a karst topography, said Matt Taylor, program director for the Illinois River group's septic tank remediation program. A failing septic system's contamination can spread in any direction underground, he said.
He emphasized that the remediation program will pay for repairs, not just replacements. A system can fail, for instance, after a vehicle rolls over the dispersion pipes and crushes them or a tree's roots spread though a pipe.
The programs will make a bigger share of grant money available to lower-income applicants, managers said. Higher income applicants will receive a greater proportion of loans that must be repaid, but at no interest.
Details are yet to be announced. Each of the program managers said their share of the money should pay for between 120 and 150 system fixes or replacements. The estimate is based on what was learned from a similar program for low-income homeowners in Missouri, managed by the Ozarks group. The average cost of a system fix there was $12,000, figures show.
Carin Love, internal operations manager for the Ozarks group, said a system could be failing without the owner being aware of it. She advised homeowners to have a licensed septic installation company inspector check their systems.
McMullen made the same point.
"With the karst topography, a failure might not be evident," he said. The foul wet spot on top of the ground that forms when a system fails can take longer to form in Northwest Arkansas.
No reliable figure exists on how many septic systems or failing ones are in the Beaver Lake watershed, much less how many need repair or replacement, according to McMullen and James McCarty, manager of environmental quality for the Beaver Water District, the nonprofit regional water supplier.
The district oversees the wholesale water supply going to city water departments in the region that serve about 358,000 customers and provide about 90 million gallons of water a day.
The water quality in Beaver Lake is very good, but fixing failing septic systems will be an important safeguard, McCarty said. The only required inspections of such systems are when they are installed, he said.
"They don't even require point of sale inspections," he said. He described record keeping on tanks around the state as "atrocious." "I think only good can come out of this," he said of the remediation plan.
The program administrators in Missouri found that some people who moved to the area were unfamiliar with septic systems.
"People moving in from areas with city sewer systems might never have learned how to take care of a septic system," Love said.
New arrivals from urban areas often buy homes in rural areas with acreage, something more affordable in this part of the nation. Then they use garbage disposals as they always have and pour grease down drains -- waste that septic systems don't tolerate as well as sewer systems do.
Groups managing the loans and grants:
Illinois River Watershed Partnership
221 S. Main St., Cave Springs
Ozarks Water Watch
11 Oak Drive, Kimberling City, Mo.
January 30, 2021
A remarkably diverse group of organizations are urging the Biden administration to issue an executive order that would enact a moratorium on mergers and acquisitions in the food and agricultural industries. Led by
Moreover, the groups ask the new administration to investigate and if appropriate, break up any companies engaged in anticompetitive practices or having excessive market share. The letter spotlights the rampant consolidation that has plagued America’s agricultural sectors and overall food system resulting in a profound loss of independent, family farmers and hollowed-out rural communities.
The details undergirding this hope-inspiring call to action by our newly inaugurated POTUS are familiar, yet remain startling: (i) the four largest processors slaughter 83 percent of beef cattle, 66 percent of hogs and half of all broiler chickens; (ii) just two companies, Ardent Mills and ADM Milling, mill half of all U.S. wheat; (iii) a few seed and agrochemical firms effectively control their markets, with the largest four companies controlling 67% and 70% of the seed and agrochemical sectors, respectively; (iv) vertically integrated agribusinesses require farmers, by one-sided contracts, to take on enormous amounts of debt, pitting farmer against farmer, which can result in unfair and abusive practices; (v) today’s farmer earns just 15 cents per food dollar; (vi) just four firms control 2/3rds of all grocery sales; and (vii) more and more revenue from rural economies is funneled to corporate headquarters and Wall Street investors.
The letter also focuses on the dangers of monopsony (as distinct from “monopoly”). In an article on Monopsony published on Investopedia,reporter Julie Young explains the meaning and economic impact of this market condition in which there is only one buyer, the monopsonist.
In a monopsony, a large buyer controls the market. Because of their unique position, monopsonies have a wealth of power. Like a monopoly, a monopsony also does not adhere to standard pricing from balancing supply-side and demand-side factors. In a monopoly, where there are few suppliers, the controlling entity can sell its product at a price of its choosing. In a monopsony, the controlling body is a buyer. This buyer may use its size advantage to obtain low prices because many sellers vie for its business.
As Annie Lowrey, staff writer at The Atlantic, explains in her must-read article, The Rise of the Zombie Small Businesses (9/4/18), a recent U.S. Small Business Administration report, called into question whether all those family chicken farms are really family chicken farms. The economic concept of monopsony explains why they’re not really family chicken farms!
Let us now praise these 28 groups who have signed this urgent letter to President Biden’s administration:
American Federation of Government Employees Council 45,
American Grassfed Association,
Animal Legal Defense Fund,
Buffalo River Watershed Alliance,
Dakota Resource Council,
Dakota Rural Action,
Green State Solutions, HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor) Food Alliance,
Family Farm Action,
Food Animal Concerns Trust,
Food & Water Watch,
Friends of the Earth,
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,
Idaho Organization of Resource Councils,
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement,
Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future,
Land Stewardship Project,
Missouri Rural Crisis Center,
National Family Farm Coalition,
Natural Resources Defense Council,
Open Markets Institute,
Organization for Competitive Markets,
Public Justice Food Project,
Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA (RAFI-USA),
Socially Responsible Agriculture Project,
Western Colorado Alliance,
Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC).
(Frank W. Barrie, 1/30/21)
By Mike Masterson January 16, 2021
Just when you thought the karst-laden Buffalo River watershed had eluded any threat of possible contamination by the removal of a misplaced hog factory, another possible threat to that river (and others) has reared its head, this one prompted by, of all folks, the U.S. Forest Service.
Named the Roberts Gap Project, the little-publicized concept creates the unnecessary risk of negatively affecting three of the most ecologically sensitive watersheds of our state, including the headwaters of the Kings, White and Buffalo rivers.
The plan covers 39,697 acres of national forest lands in Newton and Madison counties. Maps showing the proposed action areas, and various alternatives for maintaining healthy forests, are available on the Internet at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=53597.
The fundamental objectives, according to the project summary, are to "promote native forests that are more resilient to natural disturbances by improving forest health and increasing diversity of species composition and productivity; maintain and improve water quality as this area holds the headwaters of the White River, Kings River, and Buffalo River; reduce hazardous fuels [such as dry underbrush] and increase herbaceous plant species; [and] address access and visitor use concerns for the mountain bike trail system and Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area."
The way I understand the well-intentioned plan (underway now for about two years), the goal is basically to improve these specific woodlands while making them more user-friendly for the public.
Sounds exactly like what I'd expect from the Forest Service. But hundreds of citizens have expressed concerns with the plan and its possible unintentional negative impacts on the three rivers.
Gordon Watkins, who heads the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, said his group, along with other environmentally concerned groups such as Ozark Society, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Newton County Wildlife Association, expressed their concerns during the public comment period which ended in September. In mid-January they were awaiting a formal response.
Below are portions of their comments on the agency's plan.
"Due to the extensive and extractive nature of this proposal, and in such a sensitive and extraordinary location ... we recommend the potential for as-yet-unforeseen cumulative and significant impacts in this special area, and particularly risks to the Buffalo National River, is too great to proceed under the proposed action or any of the proposed alternatives. This project deserves a harder look."
The alliance's concerns, as they always have been, are for the most ecologically sensitive areas of Arkansas. "It includes the headwaters of the nearby Buffalo National River, designated in this plan area as a Wild and Scenic River, as well as the headwaters of the Kings River, an Extraordinary Resource Water. Both are among our state's most pristine streams. In addition, the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area falls within the plan area," the alliance's comments read.
"The plan area is characterized as having steep slopes and erodible soils atop karst topography. While the proposed activities are mostly conducted outside of these special protected areas (with the exception of hardwood thinning and burning adjacent to the Kings River and prescribed burning across the Buffalo River), these areas will nevertheless be impacted, particularly in terms of reduced water quality,"
The alliance is further concerned over the proposed 20.25 miles of dozer lines to be used for prescribed burning along with another 70.2 miles of combined new road construction and existing road maintenance for hauling harvested timber and accessing work areas.
Although the Forest Service proposes to revegetate all disturbed areas when it completes its planned efforts, and many miles of these roads will be permanently closed, they will nevertheless remain a permanent scar on the landscape, Watkins writes. "In addition to disturbing and exposing the soil, which will lead to inevitable erosion, this extensive network of roads and dozer trails will change the natural flow patterns of surface water in those areas during rainfall events."
There also were concerns over the agency creating ditches and culverts that will channel and concentrate flow, further exacerbating erosion and runoff, all of which ultimately flows into the Buffalo and Kings rivers. Those streams are bound to experience increased turbidity and sedimentation.
"Aquatic species will be impacted and the quality of downstream waters will suffer," the alliance added. "The problem is compounded when the totality of proposed activities are considered."
Timber harvesting, along with the associated skid trails and log pads, will further disturb and expose the soil, as will prescribed burning and herbicide use. "The cumulative effects of these activities will most certainly impact water quality of these designated areas which enjoy enhanced protection," Watkins wrote.
There are additional concerns over the almost 12,000 acres proposed for silvicultural practices including regeneration, thinning, commercial harvest, etc. "If such extensive timber harvesting must occur, we recommend that single tree selection be the prescribed method for determining tree removal and that near-old-growth timber be preserved."
"It's proposed that both hardwood and pine seedlings will be replanted in some areas. Recognizing that pine is much more easily established, we urge caution to ensure that conversion of hardwood stands to pine does not occur."
The alliance also recommended that timber harvesting be excluded from specific areas.
Another controversial agency alternative proposes prescribed burning across 10,666 acres. "Burning (as well as other activities) is proposed up to the boundary with the Wilderness Area and up to, and in some cases across, the stream channels of the Kings and Buffalo Rivers, including inside the designated Wild and Scenic River corridor," Watkins wrote.
He added: "It's stated multiple burns will likely be required. Burning removes protective leaf litter and exposes the forest floor to increased risk of erosion and runoff, which will ultimately impact water quality of streams in the area through sedimentation and increased turbidity.
The alliance recommended burning be prohibited inside the designated Wild and Scenic River corridor and that buffer zones be established adjacent to the Kings River and Wilderness Areas.
Using herbicides on 3,059 acres also raised alliance concerns." Multiple applications will likely be required. Five chemicals are proposed. Recent legal proceedings have found glyphosate to be carcinogenic, and settlements for the case are being negotiated with the Monsanto/Bayer company.
"Triclopyr is likewise suspect. The Ozarks in general, and Roberts Gap, in particular, is characterized as having karst geology, making both surface and groundwater subject to contamination from toxins applied on the surface. Many residents in this area get their drinking water from wells and springs, which tap into this karst aquifer.
"The Buffalo National River is popular as a primary contact waterway for much of the year. Park visitors as well as those who enjoy the upper Buffalo River swim, paddle, fish and in some cases drink from these waters. The introduction of toxins such as herbicides poses a risk to human health and should not be utilized. Manual practices can and should be substituted."
Watkins told me he's visited with Forest Service officials who were receptive to considering the public's suggestions and concerns, although he's waited nearly four months to hear whether the agency's current proposals will be modified, or which of the three approaches it will adopt.
"It's been all but impossible to speak with a person at the Forest Service by phone," Watkins said. "While that is frustrating, we continue to be hopeful, when they make a final determination, they will have acted on our concerns."
He told me that after the decision is announced, there will be an objection period during which those who commented may file legal objections. While the general public may submit informal comments to the Forest Service at any time, only those who commented during formal comment period have official standing to object.
While it's expected that the Forest Service always will act responsibly in managing the best interests of preserving and protecting forests across public lands, I also am not convinced such wide-ranging, ambitious actions are necessary in this fragile region of our state.
Here's a layman's thoughts: What's wrong with simply leaving these sensitive acres alone and allowing Mother Nature to continue taking her course? Isn't that how our most of our special designated wilderness areas are handled?
Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization
Copyright @ 2019