Newton County Times
Conservationists host legislators at BNR celebration
The Ozark Society receives the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award.
Posted Monday, May 16, 2022 10:15 am
By JEFF DEZORT Newton County Times
HARRISON — The Buffalo River Coalition, which includes the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Ozark Society and the National Parks and Conservation Association (NCPA) celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo National River in Harrison Tuesday, May 9, by honoring state legislators, the Buffalo National River/National Park Service and recognizing the three conservation organizations whose work continues to protect the nation's first designated national river.
The Joint Legislative Committee of Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development was invited to the evening event at the Durand Center to emphasize to its members the economic importance of the Buffalo National River to this area and the state. The joint committee, co-chaired by Senator Ron Caldwell and Rep. DeAnn Vaught held a brief meeting at 4 p.m. at the center.
Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward presented a report on his department's activities. Of most interest in this area is the ongoing program to control of feral hogs, many of which are found to be in the Buffalo National River corridor with a concentration of them in Searcy County.
Searcy County School District Superintendent Alan Yarbrough gave a report on the school district working with North Arkansas College and Forge Institute entering a memorandum of understanding to expand information technology and cybersecurity training in Searcy County. He said North Arkansas College students can now enjoy a seamless pathway to earn cybersecurity training at the North Central Career Center in Leslie.
Yarbrough said there are 17 students currently enrolled in the program's initial seven-week-long class. Under the agreement, the two institutions are working together to develop credit opportunities for Forge Institute Academy graduates at North Arkansas College. The college will provide the foundational cybersecurity training to high school students in the Searcy County and Clinton school districts, preparing them for Forge Institute or other higher education coursework.
Yarbrough said this is a model that can be replicated and work throughout the state. Under the model the program can accommodate up to 22 students.
Graduates of the program are needed to fill cybersecurity jobs that reportedly pay salaries on average of about $50,000 annually.
The meeting adjourned for social gatherings, a buffet dinner and speakers.
Presenting the keynote address was Mark Foust, superintendent of the Buffalo National River, whose remarks centered on this being the 50th anniversary of the river's "national" designation.
Emily Jones, NPCA Southeast Regional Director and Iliff McMahan, NPCA Southeast Regional Counsel ended the evenings events by presenting the NPCA's Marjory Stonemason Douglas Award to three organizations.
This annual award is named for the American journalist, author, women's suffrage advocate, and conservationist known for her staunch defense of the Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development.
The award was created in 1985 to recognize outstanding efforts by an individual that resulted in the protection of a unit or proposed unit of the National Park System.
Recipients of the awards were the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and the Ozark Society. All are members forming the Buffalo River Coalition which worked together in opposing a commercial hog production facility within the Buffalo National River Watershed in Newton County.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson stepped in and ended the six-year controversy by having the state buy out the production facility and establishing a conservation easement permanently banning any federally classified medium or large hog farms in the watershed. The Buffalo River Conservation Committee was formed by executive order under the Department of Agriculture to implement projects in the watershed to protect the quality and enhance the value of the Buffalo National River in partnership with local stakeholders. Secretary Ward is the chairman of that committee. To date the committee has released almost $2 million in grants for economic development and conservation projects in the watershed.