Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
“The Buffalo River is one of Arkansas’ crown jewels, kept undammed and pristine thanks to the conservation efforts of Neil Compton, Governor Bumpers, Senators Fulbright and McClellan, Congressman Hammerschmidt and others. As governor, I supported the Arkansas Wilderness Act of 1984, federal legislation that ultimately protected the upper and lower ends of the Buffalo River, along with 11,800 acres along Richland Creek, one of the Buffalo’s major tributaries.
About 800,000 people visit the National Park each year, where they can float, fish, and raft the river with its breathtaking views, and see the ruins of a 10,000-year-old Native American culture and remnants of the first European settlers in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
I first discovered the Buffalo when I was 16 on a field trip led by my junior class English teacher, Lonnie Luebben. We stayed in Jasper, saw an Audie Murphy movie in the small theatre, and visited sites along the river, including a cave which still had gun powder kegs from the Civil War.
When I ran for Congress in 1974, I visited every community along the Buffalo and near it, in Searcy, Newton, and Madison counties and in the southern parts of Marion, Boone, and Carroll counties. I vividly remember Boxley, Ponca, Parthenon, and many more. I remember spending many hours in the home of my friend Hilary Jones in Pruitt where there was an old cemetery with birthdates dating back to the 1700s and where Hilary provided a decent burial to people from the area who died without the means to pay for it.
Most people I talked to were against the national river because they thought the government was going to take away the land that had been in their families for more than a hundred years. I said how important it was that the Buffalo was the first river in the country to be protected as a national treasure. And that I thought their problem could be solved if the government, instead of forcing sales upon their deaths, took a scenic easement of all the land in the protected area, preventing any development or degradation but allowing them to pass along their land to their families.
I didn’t win the election, but I did carry every precinct along the Buffalo River, including many that had always voted Republican before. And I made a lot of lasting friendships, just by listening to them and getting to know them. I also learned to try to balance the competing claims of man and nature in one of our country’s most wonderful areas. In the process, I fell in love with the beauty, wildlife, history, and people of the Arkansas Ozarks. I could write a whole book with my interactions with them over the years. Here’s to fifty more great years.”
William J. Clinton, former Governor of Arkansas and President of the United States
“I was in law school when I discovered the Buffalo River, and like so many Arkansans, I view the Buffalo as a particularly pretty piece of God’s creation. As an outdoorsman, I have a personal interest in preserving the health and beauty. As governor, I devoted resources to help care for the Buffalo. My family and I have canoed the river and hiked along its banks.
The Buffalo watershed is more than a clear-running body of water — much of our history bounces off the walls of the Ozarks and echoes through its magnificent caves. My hope is that we will sustain this palace so that our children and all the generations that follow can share this natural masterpiece with a beautiful river that runs through it.”
Asa Hutchinson, Governor of Arkansas
“Known for its turquoise waters, towering sandstone bluffs, majestic overlooks and abundant wildlife, its ancient currents give life to more than 300 species of fish, insects, freshwater mussels and aquatic plants. These attributes have made it an attraction for the area’s inhabitants all the way back to prehistoric times. …
Today, five decades after Congress passed that historic bill, millions of our citizens, both from within the state and beyond our borders, have enjoyed the wonders of the Buffalo National River. They’ve explored its caves, photographed its wildlife, hiked its trails, camped along its shores, ridden horses through its valleys and canoed its rapids and pools. In the words of native son and songwriter Jimmy Driftwood, the river is ‘Arkansas’ gift to the nation, America’s gift to the world.’”
Mike Beebe, former Governor of Arkansas
“It’s hard to call just one of the many natural treasures of Arkansas the ‘crown jewel,’ but the Buffalo National River would be on most people’s list. Pristine cool waters and stunning views of scenic bluffs are just part of the majestic charm.
Once, while on a float trip with my wife and a group of friends — that included then-State Parks and Tourism Director Richard Davies, Buffalo River outfitter and tourism guru Mike Mills and my security detail from the Arkansas State Police — we had stopped on a gravel bar for lunch when we observed some young men hurling beer cans at the bluff to watch them explode. My head exploded in rage to see someone show such disrespect for this sacred place. I went immediately over to the young men as the rest of our group and the state troopers were frozen with jaws dropped that I had gone over to engage these littering lunatics.
I asked, “Where are you from?” I was glad to know it wasn’t Arkansas! I proceeded to tell them we valued the scenic beauty of our state and didn’t tolerate those who trashed it. I explained that the fine for littering was $1,000 per violation, and their choice was to pick up their trash, or I would introduce them to the Arkansas State Police who were standing nearby.
Looking back, perhaps it was impetuous and foolish to confront those guys, but trashing the Buffalo was like coming to my home and throwing trash on my living room floor. They picked up their litter, and those in our group picked up their jaws, and we continued our float trip.
And those fellows from out of state? On 99 days out of 100, they could beat me to a pulp. But on THAT day, they messed with the wrong guy who didn’t take kindly to folks not treating our one-of-a-kind Buffalo River with some respect!”
Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas
“The lion’s share of the credit for the passage of the act naming the Buffalo National River as America’s first national river rightfully goes to my good friend, the late John Paul Hammerschmidt, then the congressman from the Third Congressional District of Arkansas. We should also thank Dr. Neil Compton and other members of the Ozark Society for their tireless work to preserve Arkansas’ natural heritage.
Designating the Buffalo a national river guaranteed environmental protections that otherwise might never have existed, preserving this free-flowing river for the recreational use and enjoyment of generations of outdoor enthusiasts.
My family and I have spent many splendid hours on the Buffalo, floating, fishing and relaxing. I have always thought of Arkansas as one of the most scenic and beautiful states in America, and without a doubt, the Buffalo National River proves this point.”
David Pryor, former Governor of Arkansas and Senator
By Joe David RiceFebruary 25, 2022
Fifty-one years ago this month, I took my first canoe trip on the Buffalo River, a three-day, two-night adventure that ended at the old Buffalo River State Park southeast of Yellville. A little more than five decades later, I can vividly recall paddling for hour after hour hard against a bone-chilling wind that always seemed to be blowing upstream, and then struggling to stay warm in a sleeping bag that was far better suited to a summer excursion. Yet that chilly journey — with memories of incredibly clear water, noisy shoals, towering bluffs and too many stars to count — remains one of the highlights of my life.
The 2,500-acre Buffalo River State Park, along with the much smaller Lost Valley State Park, were absorbed into the Buffalo National River, a brand-new unit of America’s national park system, in 1972. Stretching eastward some 135 miles from the Boston Mountains to the stream’s confluence with the White River, this 95,000-acre corridor is among the true gems of the Natural State.
Canoeists discovered the Buffalo in the 1960s, although it was already known by a select few. One of them was Ray Bergman, a long-time editor with Outdoor Life magazine. In his 1942 classic, Fresh-Water Bass, Bergman recounts a memorable fishing trip down the stream:
“The Buffalo River flows through a valley of soul-inspiring scenery. Each bed of the stream brings forth new beauties of unusual distinction. In all my travels from coast to coast, I have never witnessed more impressive beauty that can be found in the Buffalo River of Arkansas.”
But much of this scenery was nearly lost to a pair of reservoirs planned since the late 1930s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The outbreak of World War II temporarily halted the projects, but the proposed dams resurfaced in the early 1960s. A heated struggle developed between vocal supporters of the impoundments and equally vocal proponents of a free-flowing Buffalo River, a conflict that eventually involved such political notables as Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt, Sen. J. William Fulbright, and even President Richard Nixon. And it birthed The Ozark Society, an organization that half a century later continues to address key environmental issues in Arkansas and adjacent states. For a blow-by-blow account of this fateful controversy, spend some time with The Battle for the Buffalo River, Dr. Neil Compton’s 481-page record of a clutch conservation victory.
Today, as a result of that historic win, some 800,000 visitors annually enjoy the Buffalo in one fashion or another: hiking along the 100-mile trails system; riding horseback; camping; overnighting in a CCC cabin; skipping rocks; birding; and, of course, paddling beneath those sheer bluffs. Tens of thousands of memories have been made because of countless Buffalo River experiences over the years. As a special feature to mark the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo National River, AY About You asked a handful of people to share some of their thoughts and recollections, and the responses can be found below.
We gathered that Wednesday morning in a fifth-floor conference room of the Executive Building near the state Capitol. I was there at the invitation of Bill Stovall, a former speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, a current lobbyist, and a man I consider a friend. If Stovall tells me I need to be somewhere, I figure it's important.
He wanted me to meet with representatives of the Buffalo River Coalition, consisting of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Ozark Society, the Arkansas Canoe Club and the National Parks Conservation Association.
The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance was created in early 2013 after it was learned that the state had approved the C&H hog farm on Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo.
What I didn't tell Stovall in advance of the meeting is that I consider all of these folks Arkansas heroes for their efforts to protect the watershed.
According to the alliance's website: "Buffalo River Watershed Alliance was organized by stakeholders living in the river's watershed, but its supporters span the state and region. The alliance was created to help preserve and protect the scenic beauty and pristine water quality of Buffalo National River by opposing and preventing construction and operation of industrial confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) within the watershed.
"Its goals are to educate and advocate for protection of the Buffalo River and its associated watershed by monitoring and addressing adverse environmental impacts and supporting a moratorium on future hog CAFOs within the watershed."
By the time these environmentalists found out about it, the hog farm already had been built in Newton County.
"We held a meeting at the old Buffalo Theater in Jasper and coalesced around this issue," said Gordon Watkins, the alliance president. "We partnered with an organization known as Earthjustice and filed a legal challenge."
In 2017, the advocacy group American Rivers ranked the Buffalo as one of America's 10 most endangered rivers due to the threat of hog farm pollution. There had been several major algal blooms in the watershed by that time. Significant growth in the summer of 2018 included toxic blue-green algae.
In July 2018, a 14.3-mile segment of the Buffalo River and Big Creek was listed as impaired, meaning that pathogen levels exceeded state water quality standards. The Buffalo was again listed on the most endangered rivers list in 2019. Later that year, C&H took a $6.2 million buyout from the state. The land went to the state as a conservation easement.
The battle had gone on for six years. One of those at the Little Rock meeting told me, "It was highly political to the end. It was really nasty business."
Watkins pointed out that 89 percent of the river's watershed is outside the boundaries of land overseen by the National Park Service. The conservation groups are also keeping an eye on Ozark streams such as the Kings River, upper White River and War Eagle Creek.
In 2016, Gov. Asa Hutchinson unveiled his Beautiful Buffalo River Initiative and announced the creation of a committee comprised of the heads of five state agencies. The governor said at the time that he had received more letters, emails and telephone calls about the hog farm than any other issue since taking office in January 2015.
The Buffalo River Conservation Committee, which was established by Hutchinson and now falls under the state Department of Agriculture, meets quarterly to address the impact to the watershed from unpaved roads, leaky septic systems, outdated municipal wastewater treatment plants and other factors. The committee provides grants for roads, water and wastewater infrastructure, algae studies, the planting of trees and other water-quality measures.
March 1 will mark 50 years since President Richard Nixon signed the bill creating Buffalo National River. The legislation put the Park Service in charge of almost 135 miles of the 150-mile-long river that runs through Newton, Searcy, Marion and Baxter counties. The Park Service released a report last year showing that 1.5 million visitors to Buffalo National River in 2020 spent $66.3 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 960 jobs and had a cumulative benefit of $76.1 million.
"Buffalo National River is a one-of-a-kind Arkansas jewel that attracts visitors from all over the country," park superintendent Mark Foust said. "During the pandemic, even more folks came out to enjoy the river and the outdoors. It's great to see our local communities benefit.
"We're working hard with Buffalo River watershed partners to conserve the national river and provide for its enjoyment for future generations of visitors, especially at a time when park visitation is increasing."
The spending analysis was conducted by Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey economists. The economic benefit of the river is clear. But the six-year battle over the hog farm was proof that there must be eternal vigilance on the part of groups that make up the Buffalo River Coalition.
Government can make big mistakes, which was evident when the state granted the hog farm a permit in the first place. I've heard former Gov. Mike Beebe say it was the biggest regret of his eight years in office.
In addition to economic benefits, there are other reasons why March 1, 1972, should go down as one of the key dates in Arkansas history. As I pointed out in last Sunday's column, Americans' impressions of Arkansas the previous 15 years were based on events in the fall of 1957 when the Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis was the world's top news story.
Over time, the Buffalo helped Arkansas become viewed as a beautiful state in which to enjoy outdoor recreational pursuits rather than being seen as a violent, backward place. In addition to changing the way people thought about Arkansas, it changed the way we thought of ourselves.
Arkansas became the Natural State, and Arkansans became aware of the need for conservation efforts. In 1996, voters even amended the state Constitution to add a permanent one-eighth cent sales tax for conservation purposes.
The Park Service is planning a series of what it calls "event weekends" to celebrate the 50th anniversary. History Weekend will begin Feb. 26 with activities at Buffalo Point, St. Joe High School and other locations. A ceremony on the actual anniversary date--Tuesday, March 1--will take place on the campus of North Arkansas College at Harrison.
Arts in the Park Weekend will begin Thursday, June 9, with a student film festival at the Kenda drive-in movie theater in Marshall. Two days later, there will be a music festival at Tyler Bend that will feature traditional Ozark music. On Oct. 8-9, the Park Service will celebrate the natural resources in the region.
Meanwhile, the Ozark Society plans to conduct numerous hikes this winter. A one-day float from Tyler Bend to Gilbert is set for April 5. The society also will lead a river trip from Grinder's Ferry to the mouth of the river from June 13-18.
The Ozark Society is older than the national river designation, dating back to an organizational meeting on May 24, 1962, on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
"The society was initially founded to give organized resistance to the proposed construction of dams on the Buffalo River," Ellen Compton wrote in a history of the organization. "It was formed during a time of heightened interest in conservation efforts. People in northwest Arkansas and Pulaski County had investigated alliances with national groups about preventing the river from being dammed. Local activists opted to form a separate organization."
It was songwriter and native Arkansan Jimmy Driftwood who said it best when he called the Buffalo "Arkansas' gift to the nation, America's gift to the world."
Rex Nelson is a senior editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
By JACQUELINE FROELICH
Listen to the report here
“Save the Buffalo River … Again” authored by Brian Thompson details the seven-year long battle to shutter an industrial swine breeding facility situated a few miles upstream of our nation's first declared national river. Sourcing news accounts, scientific studies, stakeholders, as well as lead opposition group, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, Thompson reveals how corporate pork producers attempted but failed to stake a major claim on the ecologically sensitive watershed.
By Sarah ColemanFebruary 4, 2022
Shiloh Museum of Ozark History has announced the presentation of Ken Smith’s Buffalo River Country in observance of the Buffalo River’s 50th anniversary. This exhibit celebrates the work of those inspired by the Arkansas Ozarks waterway.
Running through Dec. 31, the exhibit showcases photos and artifacts from the Buffalo National River during Smith’s survey and watershed in the 1960s. Twenty two of the 24 photographs are Smith’s. Smith also released a book, The Buffalo River Country, in 1967.
Smith’s book brings awareness to the watershed, published in The Ozark Society, photographs, maps and trail narratives played a role in the mission to have the Buffalo designated as a national river — the first to be granted this distinction.
“This exhibit is a celebration of the work of the many people who were inspired by the beauty and importance of the Buffalo River to advocate for its preservation and exploration,” says Angie Albright, director of the Shiloh Museum. “Ken Smith is one of the dedicated people whose work on the ground and in print helped bring this first-of-its-kind designation to Arkansas and our beloved Buffalo River.”
The gallery will also include a 12-minute video of Smith displaying personal items, including his Leica camera, his Olympia portable typewriter, pen and ink illustrations, a report for the Nature Conservancy about the Clark Creek Watershed in Newton County and tools he used for building trails for the Buffalo National River in 1985.
Several related events will be offered by the Shiloh Museum throughout the year in the celebration of the river’s 50th anniversary. These have been organized by the University of Arkansas Libraries and the University of Arkansas Humanities Center.
To learn more about this exhibit or the Shiloh Museum of Ozark history, click here or call 479-750-8165.
by Flip Putthoff
Chinese New Year 2022 is Year of the Tiger. In Arkansas and across America, Year of the Buffalo is appropriate.
The wild and free-flowing Buffalo River became Buffalo National River with the stroke of a pen on March 1, 1972. Then-President Richard Nixon signed congressional legislation making the Buffalo the first national river in the United States.
Dozens of events including hikes and float trips are set for 2022 to mark the 50-year anniversary of the Buffalo National River. Here are some that have been set so far.
Buffalo River office of the National Park Service in Harrison plans a series of multiday weekend events. Times have not been determined and will be announced closer to the events.
• History weekend is set for Feb. 26-March 1 celebrating the rich cultural history of the area and creation of the park.
• A talk on the geological history of the Buffalo River area will be presented Feb. 26 at Buffalo Point campground.
• An oral history project for people to tell stories about their experiences at the river or around the creation of Buffalo National River in 1972. Location and time to be announced.
• A presentation at St. Joe High School auditorium Feb. 27 discusses the current and historical tribal connection to the river. Bob King of Buffalo River Historic Jail and Museum is coordinator.
• A science symposium is set for March 1 at North Arkansas College in Harrison including an opening ceremony for the anniversary year and celebration with a birthday cake.
• Art in the park weekend June 9 is a celebration of the ways in which Buffalo National River inspires artistic endeavors.
• A student film festival will be held June 10 at the Kenda Drive-In in Marshall.
• Folklore storytelling night is June 10 at the Buffalo Point campground amphitheater.
• A music festival is set for June 11 at Tyler Bend campground featuring artist demonstration traditional Ozark music traditions and how the river inspires modern creations.
• The Chinelos Morelenses Unidos en Arkansas, a Mexican American dance group from Springdale, will perform June 12 at Steel Creek campground and speak about inspiration they gather from nature and visiting the Buffalo River area.
• Park resources weekend is Oct. 8-9 celebrating the natural resources at Buffalo National River and its health benefits.
• Yoga in the park with yoga instructors will be Oct. 8 at Steel Creek and Buffalo Point campgrounds.
• A moon party will be at Tyler Bend on Oct. 8 with viewing of the moon with telescopes and discussing the importance of the night sky.
• Naturalization ceremony will be Oct. 9 at Ozark campground naturalizing 15 new U.S. citizens.
Please note that events are subject to change due to health-related requirements or weather. Buffalo National River encourages everyone to visit the park's website www.nps.gov/buff and calendar of events for up-to-date information.
The Ozark Society was instrumental in the fight to keep the Buffalo free of dams leading up to the creation of the Buffalo National River. These events are open to Ozark Society members, but there is plenty of time to join the Ozark Society and take part in these activities.
• The Ozark Society will lead numerous hikes along the Buffalo this winter. A schedule of the hikes is posted on the Ozark Society website at www.ozarksociety.net, with instructions on how to contact the hike leader.
• A day float on the Buffalo from Tyler Bend to Gilbert is set for April 5. A ride in a boat will be provided or people may bring their own boats. Passengers will need to provide their own life jacket. Those interested in the float trip should contact Stewart Noland at 501-831-9908 or email@example.com.
• The Ozark Society will lead a multiday river trip on the Buffalo from Grinder's Ferry to the White River, June 13 – 18. More information on this trip, including how to register for it, is available on the Ozark Society website at www.ozarksociety.net. For details about this trip contact Stewart Noland at 501-831-9908 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Buffalo River documentary film will be shown the evening of March 17 at Skylight Cinema in Bentonville. Start time hasn't been determined.
By KY3 Staff
Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 6:02 PM UTC
MARBLE FALLS, Ark. (KY3) - The Dogpatch USA theme park, which operated from 1968 to 1993, was once an important part of the area’s tourism industry, especially for the Harrison area.
“It was our local economy at one time,” said Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson. But over the years Dogpatch and the former Marble Falls resort (that sits on a hill overlooking the park) have fallen into a state of disrepair with the remaining buildings and equipment serving as a sad reminder of glory days long gone and ill-fated attempts to revitalize the land.
“We’ve gone through so many ups-and-downs of people wanting to buy the property and then backing out or making all these grandiose plans,” said Harrison Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Bob Largent. “They’d move in for two or three months and work with paint and ladders and hammers and then just not show up the next day.”
“We’ve been living with it being nothing for so long that we never expected it to be something again,” Mayor Jackson added.
When they heard that Bass Pro Founder Johnny Morris had bought the property in 2020 they were encouraged, even though they didn’t know exactly what Morris had planned for the property.
“It was like we just landed on the moon,” Mayor Jackson said. “It was one of the greatest things we’d heard in many decades.”
Recently at a Buffalo River Conservation Committee meeting, more information was made available to the public about what was coming.
While Morris is working with his staff to formulate the finished plans, he does know that he wants to keep Dogpatch’s natural beauty and that the property won’t be a housing development like one previous owner considered.
It will instead be transformed into the Marble Falls Nature Park, which will be somewhat like Morris’ Dogwood Canyon Park just to the north in southern Missouri.
“The first time I was exposed to it (Dogpatch property) was three or four years ago when it was pretty dilapidated and run down as far as the buildings,” Morris recalled. “But what is there is beautiful nature and the limestone bluffs and two springs. They had a huge trout hatchery there, and that’s probably one of our first goals is to reactivate that hatchery and develop the creek that runs through there. We plan to build a restaurant and nature trails. We don’t have all the answers yet, but the main thing is to have something open for people to enjoy and learn more about nature and conservation.”
The Harrison Chamber of Commerce is certainly happy about its community reaping the benefits. As a town that depends heavily on 15 manufacturing companies, its economic engine is expecting some changes.
“If you look at what Dogwood Canyon has become we can see the Marble Falls Nature Park as that on steroids,” Largent said. “Our largest single industry is now going to become tourism.”
“We will become one of the main destination places in the whole central area of the United States,” added Mayor Jackson.
Food and Water Watch
Washington, D.C. - As President Biden continues to promise that his administration will address the climate crisis and protect the air we breathe from industrial polluters, 24 advocacy organizations are demanding Biden’s EPA live up to that promise by doing more to protect communities from factory farms. Today, the groups filed a legal petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), urging it to enforce federal air pollution laws against these major polluters, something the agency has refused to do for nearly two decades.
Over 16 years ago, the George W. Bush administration announced an Agreement and Final Order it had secretly negotiated with the National Pork Producers Council. EPA agreed to refrain from enforcing key air pollution control and public disclosure laws like the Clean Air Act against any animal feeding operation (AFO) that signed up for the deal. In exchange, participating AFOs agreed to pay a small penalty to fund a nationwide air monitoring program that was supposed to help EPA develop more accurate air emissions estimating methodologies (EEMs) for AFOs. The methodologies were intended to allow EPA and citizens to calculate factory farms’ pollution and begin enforcing clean air laws.
Nearly 14,000 AFOs signed up for this sweetheart deal, known as the Air Consent Agreement, which, by its own terms, should have been completed in 2010. Yet, due in part to the fundamentally flawed ways in which EPA designed, ran, and used the data collected from the air monitoring study, the agency has yet to finalize anymethodologies or end the Air Consent Agreement.
As a result of EPA’s protracted delay, thousands of the nation’s largest AFOs continue to enjoy protection from EPA enforcement actions, even if their air pollution emissions exceed legal limits or reporting thresholds. AFOs emit a number of deadly air pollutants like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and climate-altering methane. According to a recent study, the livestock industry’s air pollution is responsible for over 12,700 deaths per year — more deaths than are attributed to coal-fired power plants.
In light of AFO air pollution’s serious and unregulated public health impacts, the advocacy groups are demanding EPA put a stop to its “unacceptable dereliction of duty” by terminating the Air Consent Agreement, and taking all actions consistent with President Biden’s executive orders to enforce applicable clean air laws against AFOs.
The Petitioners include: Animal Legal Defense Fund, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (Arkansas), Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Clean Water for North Carolina (North Carolina), Center on Race, Poverty, & the Environment (California), Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, Farm Aid, Friends of the Earth, Friends of Family Farmers (Oregon), Friends of Toppenish Creek (Washington), Food Animal Concerns Trust, Food & Water Watch, Government Accountability Project, Humane Society of the United States, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa), Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, North Carolina Conservation Network (North Carolina), Public Justice, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Waterkeeper Alliance.
“AFO air pollution not only harms human health and our environment, it also exacerbates the suffering faced by the animals living at these facilities, ” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “This free pass to pollute the air is another way our federal government subsidizes this cruel industry and helps it to thrive and expand.”
“Air pollution from factory farms kills almost 13,000 people a year, yet the EPA continues to sit on its keister as the meat industry emits more and more air pollution without consequences,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Multiplied out, the agency’s practice of ignoring these dangerous emissions for 16 years now makes it an accomplice in likely more than 200,000 deaths and countless harms to the environment and wildlife. Enough is enough.”
“Communities surrounding the mega-dairies in Oregon have suffered long enough from their air pollution,” said Amy van Saun, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety’s Pacific Northwest office. “No one wants to live near these stinking and hazardous operations, yet EPA continues to sacrifice the most marginalized people to the benefit of industry profit.”
“We are simply asking the EPA to level the playing field and treat this industry the same way it treats every other industry,” said Abel Russ, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “We strongly support the Agency’s efforts to update the science, but that process is always ongoing – it should never be used as an excuse to put critical environmental protections on hold. No other industry gets that kind of special treatment. It’s unfair, and it has important consequences to overburdened communities across the country.”
“The EPA has given factory farms a free pass to pollute since 2005, when it negotiated a backroom amnesty deal with the industry essentially exempting it from federal air pollution laws,” said Emily Miller, Staff Attorney at Food & Water Watch. “Since then, factory farms have been freely spewing dangerous air contaminants into the environment, not only threatening the health of nearby communities, but also contributing to climate change. This needs to stop.”
“For decades, the factory farm industry has insulated itself from the necessary enforcement critical to a just food system and healthy climate,” said Brent Newell, Senior Attorney at the Public Justice Food Project. “The Air Consent Agreement, now more than 16 years old, has given factory farms a free pass to pollute and reflects past administrations’ failure to take urgent action and prioritize human health over the profit-driven interests of Big Ag. We urge the EPA to grant this petition and to finally abandon an agreement that not only undermines the law, but also entrenches the factory farm system in a way that harms Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian and white rural communities.”
In rural communities, residents and family farmers are increasingly pitting the need to protect their waterways and natural areas for outdoor recreation against factory farms, which they say pollute the environment and threaten tourism dollars.
BY MALLORY DAILY
SEPTEMBER 28, 2021
In 2019, after seven years of public outcry, the Republican Governor of Arkansas agreed to a $6.2 million buyout of an industrial hog facility located near a major tributary of the Buffalo River, the first designated national river, which originates in the Boston Mountains of the Ozarks in northwestern Arkansas. It was a big win for clean water advocates and if it had just been an anonymous stream, the state would have never bought out the 6,500-hog JBS factory farm, said Gordon Watkins, sitting on the deck of the vacation rental he owns and manages in the watershed.
“Because it was the Buffalo National River, it garnered nationwide attention,” said Watkins, who is a retired organic farmer and the president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, one of four organizations comprising a coalition that formed almost a decade ago when the public first caught wind of the hog facility.
More than 1.5 million people are estimated to visit the clear, bluff-lined river every year to hike, fish, camp, and paddle. They spent more than $66 million in 2020 and supported more than 960 jobs, according to data from the National Park Service. Watkins is one of many who operate vacation rentals near the park, which spans four counties, all of which have poverty rates higher than the national average.
“Most of my business is because of the Buffalo National River,” said Watkins. “That’s what brings people here. . . . Tourism is our bread and butter. It employs a whole lot more people than one hog barn did.”
In other regions, where animals are raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), it’s rare to find opponents successful in stopping the state from approving a CAFO permit, let alone altogether halting operations that have persisted for years. So the campaign to close C&H Hog Farms stands out—and it could be a sign of what’s ahead.
In rural communities, residents and family farmers are increasingly pitting the need to protect their waterways and natural areas for outdoor recreation against factory farms, which they say pollute the environment and threaten tourism dollars. In framing their opposition to industrial animal agriculture in this way, the groups open the door for unlikely allies to join the fight for heavier regulations. In some cases, these campaigns have resulted in bipartisan support for stricter monitoring of the environmental impacts of CAFOs—and have even led to cross-the-aisle discussions about creating CAFO moratoriums in environmentally sensitive regions.
Two years after the anti-CAFO faction near the Buffalo River emerged victorious, a community near the Bloody Run Stream in Iowa is challenging a new cattle feedlot through legal action. Other communities in the Midwest are also framing the fight against industrial animal ag as a battle to protect open spaces and the right to clean, safe outdoor recreation. And, as family farming and environmental advocates realize success with this strategy, they are creating a roadmap for others to challenge the proliferation of factory farms in their own backyards.
In the fight to “Save the Buffalo . . . Again,” a slogan that refers to environmentalists’ initial attempts to prevent the damming of the river in the 1960s, supporting rural recreation became a key leverage point in challenging the power of Big Ag. Outdoor recreation, of course, relies upon the health of local natural resources.
“There was the saying that ‘Brazil gets the meat, JBS gets the money, and the Buffalo River gets the shit,’” said Watkins, referring to the lack of local benefits corporate-backed CAFOs provide. Typically, corporations own the hogs in the facility while local operators care for the animals and own the land upon which the CAFO was built, as well as the debt it takes to build it and the manure the hogs leave behind.
When C&H was in operation, it stored up to two million gallons of liquid hog waste in open pits, referred to as “lagoons,” on the property, and it periodically spread the waste on nearby farm fields as fertilizer. Some CAFO manure has been shown to have enough nitrogen, phosphorus, antibiotics, and pathogens such as E. coli to wreak havoc on sensitive ecosystems and pollute water used for drinking and recreating.
The C&H farm was situated in a karst topography, a type of landscape known for its fractured limestone bedrock, caves, and sinkholes. Some scientists refer to karst as an underground terrain of “swiss cheese,” where pollutants that exist on the earth’s surface are at higher risk of reaching groundwater and spreading beyond the intended application sites. While the topography contributes to the beauty of the region and its appeal for nature-loving tourists, it also means that pollutants can spread quickly.
With the help of a professor emeritus in hydrogeology from the University of Arkansas, advocates put together a series of dye tracing tests that showed the complex system of subsurface water flow near the CAFO. The authors cited the need for further in-depth study to monitor the spread of possible pollutants far beyond the farm site and the surrounding spreading fields.
But a five-year study conducted by Big Creek Research and Extension Team (BCRET), a state-funded project to evaluate the impact of C&H Farms on the watershed, found no proof of direct pollution from the farm. Still, advocates were not convinced. They raised the alarm about the threat of pollution and publicized their loss of faith in the state to conduct “sound” research, which was ultimately enough to mobilize statewide opposition to the continued operation of the facility.
Leaks and spills due to improper storage or transport of the manure, as well as runoff from mismanaged application to farm fields, can contribute to a host of environmental and public health complications, including toxic algal blooms, fish kills, and blue baby syndrome.
Ben Milburn, owner of Buffalo River Outfitters, a canoe rental and lodging company that serves park visitors, has perennial concerns about the river’s water quality. For Milburn, the mismanagement of human wastewater in surrounding communities and decreased funding for park maintenance compounds with the acute pollution pressures from industrial agriculture.
Milburn, who also serves as a member of the state-funded Buffalo River Conservation Committee, said the state should be responsible for creating restrictions for farmers in the watershed.
“Without [the state] protecting it and limiting what a farmer can do when it comes to fertilizer in their fields or in agricultural production” the community is in trouble, he said. “There’s got to be some type of oversight or there is the potential for problems.”
The potential for pollution from CAFOs can be extreme. In 2018, flooding in North Carolina due to Hurricane Florence caused 50 manure lagoons to overflow. In Iowa, the state with the largest number of permitted CAFOs in the nation, environmental groups have estimated the plan to clean up nitrates in the capital’s drinking water will take 22,000 years to complete.
Nitrate pollution not only results from excessive applications of manure to crop fields, but also from applications of synthetic fertilizer. Both sources are used to enhance the fertility of fields growing grains that, among other uses, end up in the mouths of livestock in these factory farms.
While CAFO opponents have long cited the risks these facilities pose to both environmental and human health in their campaigns, some communities are bringing in a third element: preserving local recreation industries.
Jenna Pollock grew up on a family farm in the northeast corner of Iowa among the rolling hills, limestone bluffs, and meandering rivers of the Driftless region. She still helps her family raise cattle, hogs, hay, corn, and soybeans while serving as the Clayton County Conservation Director. She says she’s accustomed to the tensions that arise between agriculture and outdoor recreation, and it can be a struggle to keep a foot in both worlds.
“We have to do things with a little greater care, because we are in such a volatile ecosystem,” Pollock said.
Pollock’s community is grappling with the risks posed by a large cattle feedlot owned by Supreme Beef, LLC. It is situated near Bloody Run Creek, a cold-water trout stream designated as one of Iowa’s 34 “outstanding waters” (which stand out when compared to the agency’s 773 impaired water segments).
Earlier this year, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR)—the same agency that designates Bloody Run as protected—approved the expansion of a cattle feedlot near the headwaters of the stream from 2,700-head of cattle to 11,600, making it one of the largest livestock facilities in the County. The feedlot’s plans include spreading manure on more than 40 fields near the creek. Like the area where C&H is located in Arkansas, the Driftless region in Iowa is known for its karst topography.
Small, rural economies cannot ignore the local dollars that sites like Bloody Run bring in through hosting sites for camping, fishing, and hiking. In 2015, visitor expenditures equaled more than $33 million in Clayton County, in addition to the $50 million attributed to the nearby River Bluffs Scenic By-Way, which passes through both Clayton and Fayette counties, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Travel Association.
Recreation economies are gaining attention on a national scale as well. In 2017, spurred by the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act passed by Congress, the Bureau of Economic Analysis included the outdoor recreation industry in its GDP calculations for the first time. The agency’s most recent report, released in 2020, shows that the outdoor recreation industry makes up 2.1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and exceeds the size of the agriculture industry.
“More places are thinking about outdoor recreation as a viable economic development strategy, especially in places that have been reliant on natural resources, at least with those more extractive industries,” said Megan Lawson, an economist with Headwaters Economics, a community development and land management research firm.
“Communities are seeing outdoor recreation as a way to even out the booms and busts of those extractive industries . . . as they respond to big macroeconomic fluctuations,” Lawson continued. “That’s something that I’ve really seen change.”
Still, recreation economies are no silver bullet. For one, Lawson said, counties with developed recreation economies have lower wages and higher housing costs on average. But wages are growing at a faster rate than those in counties without recreation, according to Headwaters Economics data.
While agribusiness has long touted itself as one of the only industries that continues to invest in the rural Midwest, it has become an increasingly concentrated sector that pushes out small producers and prioritizes corporate profits.
Because of the pollution risks posed to lands and waters used for hunting and fishing, Jessica Mazour of the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter said that unlikely allies are joining the fight to close down the Supreme Beef feedlot near Bloody Run, including politically conservative residents who typically support the development of industrial agriculture in their region.
“Recreation has become a bigger piece of the puzzle than it ever has been before,” said Mazour. “[Iowans] are not going to get any benefit from the factory farm moving into their area, but they will benefit if they have an area where people are coming and spending money to make use of the natural resources.”
Organizers in Arkansas reported similar cross-the-aisle efforts. Carol Bitting, a longtime caver in the Buffalo River Watershed and advocate for the closure of the hog CAFO there, found that she often received the support of landowners who wouldn’t speak out publicly, but who allowed her and a team of researchers to use their land in order to conduct the dye-tracing tests.
“The community supported me during the testing,” said Bitting. “But they also said, ‘If you tell anybody I agree with you, I’ll never admit it in public. We can’t talk about that here.’”
Other CAFO opposition campaigns in the Midwest are also seeing gradual bipartisan support for heavier regulation of these facilities. Rural sociology scholar Loka Ashwood has tracked two bipartisan efforts that led to operators withdrawing CAFO plans in Illinois, resulting in what she calls “pragmatic politics without parties.” In Missouri, the owner of a hog CAFO withdrew their application for a 10,500 hog facility after months of bipartisan opposition from folks motivated by protecting a nearby 6,000 acre conservation area.
Despite these recent patterns, the fate of Iowa’s Bloody Run Creek remains unknown. The Sierra Club and affiliated groups have filed suit against Iowa DNR’s approval of the Supreme Beef feedlot, based on what they view to be miscalculations in the operation’s manure spreading plans.
“Being an Iowa farm boy, you understand that agriculture is a part of life,” said David Klemme, who grew up on a corn and soybean farm and is now a member of Trout Unlimited in Iowa, a national organization funded by fishers to conserve and recover waterways that host wild and native trout populations.
“I think the question is, how can we try to balance the agricultural practices with the needs of the environment? And if we know CAFOs are [going to be] in Iowa, how do we make sure that where they’re being placed makes the most sense for everyone?”
All photos by Mallory Daily.
Mallory Daily is a 2021 Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellow; this reporting was supported by the Pulitzer Center.
Newton County Times
By JEFF DEZORT email@example.com
JASPER — Bob Ziehmer, senior director of conservation for Bass Pro Shops, the premiere outdoor and conservation company whose mission is to inspire everyone to enjoy, love and conserve the great outdoors, said he welcomes the opportunity to work with state and local officials as the Springfield, Missouri-based business develops one of its latest projects, the Marble Falls Nature Park.
Ziehmer and other company officials, attended the quarterly meeting of the Buffalo River Conservation Committee (BRCC) held at the Jasper School Cafeteria on Tuesday afternoon. They were featured on the agenda to present what Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO John L. “Johnny” Morris has in mind for the former Dogpatch USA theme park in Newton County.
Morris purchased the 400-acre piece of property just over a year ago. At the time the company announced in a press release that Morris was in the early stages of exploring specific plans for the property, but any possible future development will be an extension of his other projects, which aim to connect families to nature.
Ziehmer confirmed that the project is continuing towards that goal of meeting the company’s three pillars of protecting wildlife and habitat, connecting new audiences to the outdoors and advocating for sportsmen’s rights and the outdoors.
The BRCC was established by an Executive Order of Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2019. Its purpose is to implement projects in the Buffalo River Watershed to protect the quality and enhance the value of the Buffalo National River in partnership with local stakeholders.
Members of the committee are the secretaries of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, Department of Energy and Environment and the Department of Health. Wes Ward, secretary of the agriculture department, is the chairman and he presided over Tuesday’s meeting. While several of the members attended virtually, many of their staff members were present.
Spencer Jones, PE, Great River Engineering, of Springfield, Missouri, involved in the development of the former theme park, gave the committee a sneak peak of what Bass Pro Shop’s newest outdoor venue will be about. Its name is Marble Falls Nature Park and will have features almost identical to the much larger Dogwood Canyon Nature Park near Lampe, Missouri.
Spencer said the park will focus on the community’s history which includes being the site where a block of marble was quarried, carved and transported to the nation’s capital in 1836 and was one of the first stones to be incorporated into the Washington Monument. The site was also where Peter Bellah built the original water powered grist mill. The town, then known as Marble City, became a health resort featuring the healing waters from the spring. Later, Albert Raney Sr. developed the site on Mill Creek into a trout hatchery which eventually led to the development of the area into Dogpatch USA.
Like Dogwood Canyon, Marble Falls Nature Park may include a working mill and restaurant, offer trout fishing and fly-fishing lessons, provide wildlife tours with displays of animals such as buffalo, horseback riding and mostly programs dedicated to educating the public on conservation.
The deterioration of the theme park has had a negative impact on the water quality of the creek which is a part of the Buffalo River Watershed.
Water resources appears to be the priority issue of the new owner. Spencer said working with BRCC will be needed to repair and update the drinking water and waste water systems serving the park and the surrounding community. The Basin Valley Water District has a very leaky system. It was built in 1969. “They are pumping more water than they are selling.”
The gravity sewer system was also built in 1969. It was designed to operate with a large flow, but with the lower flow today it does not meet discharge limits, Spencer said.
Another area of concern is the transportation system, namely state Highway 7. He said the highway’s alignment has created accidents and congestion. “We are working with the state to help address those issues.”
It comes down to a public/private partnership. The company is reaching out into the community to work with the Marble Falls Sewer Improvement District, the Basin Valley Water District and the Arkansas Department of Transportation to deal with these environmental and safety issues and improve the quality of life and economic development for the entire region, Spencer concluded in the presentation to the BRCC.
Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization
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