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BUFFALOED - Sen. Greg Leding

23 Oct 2023 10:22 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Senator Greg Leding


In early October, the Madison County Record published a story about a new coalition looking to make the federal lands along the Buffalo National River a national park and preserve. Why might someone want to see such a change? While a national park restricts hunting, mining and consumptive-use activities, a preserve protects hunting, fishing, trapping, and—whew—oil and gas extraction.

One of the groups promoting the change is Runway Group, LLC, founded by Walmart heirs Tom and Steuart Walton. Runway invests in outdoor recreation, real estate, art, and hospitality.

One of Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s first actions as governor was to form an advisory council, chaired by her husband, First Gentleman Bryan Sanders, to guide the governor’s plan to expand our state’s recreational assets. Among those named to the council by our governor is Tom Walton.

Developing recreational assets isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but most Arkansans rightfully cherish the Buffalo River as a national treasure and are right to question any proposed changes—especially when the first gentleman appears to have some kind of financial connection to Glen Johnson, who, among other things, is president of an oil and gas company that invests in mineral rights across the US, including the Fayetteville Shale. Johnson contributed to Governor Sanders’s campaign and was named by our governor to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Could the push for change be nothing more than a sincere desire to responsibly develop an incredible natural asset? Maybe! And maybe if this administration were more transparent, less confrontational, and not tangled up in controversy, Arkansans would be less suspicious.

As far as legislative support goes—and to be clear, lawmakers can't make the change, only Congress can—there’s bipartisan opposition. Senator Bryan King of Green Forest and Senator Missy Irvin of Mountain View, both Republicans, have expressed concerns, as have I and others.

If you care about the Buffalo River, follow this story closely. Consider subscribing to the Madison County Record. Write letters to the editor, participate in meetings and town halls when you can, and do contact your state lawmakers. While they can’t change the river’s designation, they can certainly signal their support or opposition to our governor and congressional delegation.

Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization

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