Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
REX NELSON: Creating a natural state
by Rex Nelson
In a place that likes to refer to itself as the Natural State, I can think of no more important project right now than the quail restoration efforts that I outline in a story on the cover of today's Perspective section. That's because this program will benefit other types of birds that are in decline, along with pollinators such as honeybees and monarch butterflies.
Such initiatives are crucial to the future of American agriculture. And agriculture still represents the largest segment of the Arkansas economy.
The value of honeybee pollination to U.S. agriculture is estimated at $18.9 billion annually. About 75 percent of flowering plants rely on pollinators for reproduction. Ideal pollinator habitat must have native flowers with a variety of colors, shapes and heights that bloom throughout the growing season.
How do we get back there as a state?
"We just have to get people used to these controlled burns," wildlife biologist Austin Klais told me. "We also need to help them come to the realization that you can manage your land for wildlife and still make money off it."
As Michael Widner wrote in this newspaper two weeks ago: "While landscape changes after the Civil War helped quail numbers greatly, mechanized agriculture introduced about the era of World War II resulted in profound changes to land ownership patterns, field size and vegetation control using herbicides. Pasture grasses, land fertilization, commercial timber production methods and many other facets of forestry and farming were introduced. These changes parallel the decline in quail numbers because modern agricultural and forestry practices have destroyed most quail habitats."
If Arkansas is to be the Natural State--increasing the quality of life for current Arkansans while attracting new residents--three additional efforts must take place to complement the quail habitat restoration initiative:
• The first is a concerted push to make the Keep Arkansas Beautiful program the strongest entity of its type in the country. The Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission is a division of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism and is one of the state agencies that shares proceeds from Amendment 75 to the Arkansas Constitution.
The one percent that Keep Arkansas Beautiful receives from that one-eighth-of-a-cent sales tax provides an annual budget of almost $700,000. Keep Arkansas Beautiful is the certified state affiliate of Keep America Beautiful Inc.
Keep Arkansas Beautiful recruits people to join the Keep America Beautiful network as members of certified local affiliates. There are affiliates at Bryant, Camden, El Dorado, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Little Rock, North Little Rock, Ozark, Sherwood, Van Buren, West Memphis and Pine Bluff. The number of affiliates needs to at least triple in the next year.
It's time for people across Arkansas to step up in this place of great natural beauty that's unfortunately where residents litter roadsides on a regular basis and use illegal dumps. I love my native state, but as someone who has been in all 75 counties the past two years, I can say this with certainty: We're a trashy place. Let's clean up Arkansas and give the hardworking folks at Keep Arkansas Beautiful some help.
• The second effort is a significant expansion of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission's Stream Team program. There are more than 90,000 miles of rivers, creeks and bayous in Arkansas. The state has lost thousands of miles of free-flowing streams to dams, industrial pollution and agricultural pollution. The quality of many smallmouth bass streams is declining at an alarming rate.
There has been an increased focus on stream quality in Arkansas in recent months due to the battle over the C&H Hog Farms in the Buffalo River watershed. During the administration of Gov. Mike Beebe, the state allowed C&H to house more than 6,500 swine on land along Big Creek, which flows into the Buffalo.
In June, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that state funds would be combined with funds from The Nature Conservancy for a $6.2 million buyout of C&H. Funds were transferred in August, and the farm's owners have started to sell their hogs.
"We still want to have a long-term effort to make sure the Buffalo River is pristine for generations to come," Hutchinson said.
Along those lines, it was announced last week that The Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation have pledged $1 million for the newly formed Buffalo River Conservation Committee to give out for conservation projects. Hutchinson will add $1 million from his discretionary fund, pending legislative approval.
The current momentum must be seized. It's time to recruit additional Stream Team members who will adopt hundreds of streams across the state. These members are allowed to plan projects along streams with landowner approval and technical assistance from program sponsors.
Projects can include litter reduction, water quality monitoring, erosion control such as stream-side tree plantings, and more. Volunteers already have repaired hundreds of miles of eroding stream banks in the state, but that number should be in the thousands.
• The third thing that's needed is a massive expansion of projects that are replacing marginal farmland in the Arkansas Delta with hardwood trees. Two years ago, I accompanied Kyle Peterson, who at the time headed the Bentonville-based Walton Family Foundation, on a tour of Delta initiatives funded by the foundation. One program returns farmland to bottomland hardwood forests in conjunction with Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and other organizations.
In the quarter-century since Congress created the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program, more than 700,000 acres have been protected in Delta regions of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. These programs allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service to compensate farmers for removing cropland from production and returning land to a natural state.
For decades, Delta farmers cleared and drained bottomland forests when soybean prices were high. Much of that land was marginal at best for row-crop agriculture.
In the words of James Cummins of Wildlife Mississippi: "You had millions of acres of bottomland hardwoods being pushed up. There were bulldozers running around the clock. They weren't even harvesting the timber because people were frantically trying to clear the land and plant it with soybeans. A lot of this low-lying land wasn't meant for farming."
The Walton Family Foundation has played a direct role in helping restore 75,000 acres. It would be wonderful to see that number quadrupled. From bike trails to education initiatives, the foundation has had a positive impact on Arkansas. But if Walton family members really want to see Arkansas thrive decades from now, the biggest bang for the buck will come from hardwood restoration.
One of the largest expanses of forested wetlands in the world was once the 24 million acres of hardwoods along the lower Mississippi River. Fewer than five million forested acres survive in the area once known as the Big Woods. The most extensive remaining tract of the Big Woods is the White River National Wildlife Refuge and the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge of Arkansas.
We're talking about planting trees on marginal cropland from the standpoint of farmers making a profit. It's past time to pick up the pace of Big Woods restoration.
NWA EDITORIAL: The money flows
Governor, nonprofits collaborate on Buffalo’s future
by NWA Democrat-Gazette
The astonishing thing, perhaps is that it took until 2019 for an Arkansas governor get around to creating a panel specifically interested in not just protecting the Buffalo National River, but actually devoting money to its future well-being.
Let's be clear (which is also the way we prefer our waterways, by the way) about one thing from the get-go: Arkansas has a lot of creeks, streams and rivers worth seeing and protecting. And, with a way of life that relies heavily on agriculture as an economic powerhouse, the state also faces serious challenges to ensure those activities thrive without doing damage to its natural beauty and diverse ecosystem.
What’s the point?
A state committee created by Gov. Asa Hutchinson can be a valuable collaborative effort in the protection and preservation of the nation’s first national river.
In recent years, many Arkansans have re-awakened to the necessity of protecting beloved waterways. The chief reason for that revival of concern is the controversial state-permitted operation of a large-scale commercial hog farm too close to the jewel of natural resource tourism, the Buffalo National River. C&H Hog Farms was permitted in 2013 to house more than 6,500 swine.
Ask whether that hog farm's operation was doing harm to the Buffalo and its tributaries and you'll get an argument from some folks. But earlier this year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson recognized a unique opportunity to rescue the 135-mile river from even the potential of degradation. Working with the Nature Conservancy -- an organization Arkansas is fortunate to have operating within its borders -- Hutchinson negotiated a $6.2 million buyout of C&H.
That deal recognized the need to compensate the family that invested in the hog farm. The owners, according to Hutchinson, have started the process of removing the hogs. As part of the deal, the land on which the hog farm operated will be given to the state as a conservation easement, limiting its future use.
State regulators are now going through a process to make permanent a ban on new medium- and large-scale hog farms in the Buffalo River watershed. Hutchinson has said he supports the ban around the Buffalo, which Congress in 1972 named as the United States' first national river. The river itself is under the management of the National Park Service, but its watershed is far, far bigger than what that agency controls.
While Hutchinson and any Arkansas governor who has any sense will and must support farmers and the state's agricultural economy, it also cannot and must not go unnoticed that tourism is also a massive economic driver. Just this week, state tourism officials released the numbers for 2018: More than 32 million visitors spent around $7.37 billion dollars, directly supporting nearly 68,000 jobs within the travel industry.
As far as the Buffalo National River, it accounts for well more than 1 million visitors a year. Many of those who don't live in Arkansas undoubtedly become ambassadors for the state in the aftermath of their journey. How could they not? A visit to the river, with its majestic bluffs, massive boulders and beautiful waters, can be described as anything from great outdoor fun to an almost spiritual experience.
Now comes news that Gov. Hutchinson is upping the ante on the Buffalo River. Early this week, he created the Buffalo River Conservation Committee. Now, establishing a committee isn't necessarily progress. After all, the first committee he created in 2016, the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee, is required to hold quarterly meetings but has only met once in 2019. But the new committee will get $1 million from the governor's discretionary fund, pending legislative approval, and has already received pledges totalling $1 million from the Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation.
The combined effort will help allocate money toward conservation projects in the Buffalo River's watershed. The conservation committee will use a state and federally approved watershed management plan as its guide.
"We still want to have a long-term effort to make sure the Buffalo River is pristine for generations to come," he said.
Buffalo River project panel formsGovernor-made group to choose conservation endeavors
by Emily Walkenhorst
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, using executive powers, created a new state committee Monday that is to select conservation projects within the watershed of the Buffalo National River.
Private funds and a planned contribution from Hutchinson's discretionary funds will go toward the projects. The Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation have collectively pledged $1 million toward the new Buffalo River Conservation Committee.
Buffalo River Foundation Executive Director Ross Noland said the funding from each nonprofit organization has not been determined. The groups will together fund conservation projects worth a total of $1 million, and their contributions would be figured once projects are approved, Noland said.
Hutchinson also intends to use $1 million from his discretionary fund toward the committee, pending legislative approval.
The new endeavor is the latest from the governor's office regarding the Buffalo River, which has been the subject of heated political debate in recent years on how best to protect it. The major issue has been the existence of C&H Hog Farms, which was permitted in 2013 under Gov. Mike Beebe's administration to house 6,503 swine on land that abuts Big Creek, 6.6 miles from where it runs into the Buffalo River.
Hutchinson announced a $6.2 million buyout of C&H in June, with most of the funds coming from the state and some money coming from The Nature Conservancy.
After being paid in August, the farm's owners have started to sell the hogs, Hutchinson said.
The announcement was met positively.
"Protecting this watershed is vital for the ability of Arkansans to enjoy this beautiful free-flowing resource," U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., said in a statement issued Monday.
The new Buffalo River Conservation Committee will provide grants for conservation projects using the river's state and federally approved watershed management plan as a guide.
Committee members include the secretaries or designees of the departments of agriculture; energy and environment; parks, heritage and tourism; and health.
The Nature Conservancy, the Buffalo River Foundation and the committee will ideally find ways to combine their unique missions on conservation projects, Noland said.
"That's when you make a difference," he said.
The Buffalo River Foundation is a private land trust and works on conservation easements and targeted land acquisitions. Easements limit the use of land. Its money would be limited to that mission, Noland said.
He said the foundation is glad to see emphasis from state government placed on protecting the Buffalo.
"The Nature Conservancy and many of our supporters appreciate Gov. Hutchinson's commitment to the Buffalo River," Scott Simon, director of The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas, said in a statement. "We are interested in being part of a collaborative effort that involves many stakeholders and landowners working together for the Buffalo."
The Buffalo River Conservation Committee is the second committee associated with the Buffalo River that Hutchinson has created as governor, with the first being the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee in 2016.
That committee is required to hold quarterly meetings but has met only once in 2019.
The Department of Energy and Environment said the action committee met in June and remains active.
Metro on 09/24/2019
Print Headline: Buffalo River project panel forms
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
September 23, 2019
Governor Hutchinson Announces Buffalo River
$2 million in state and private funds going to conservation
LITTLE ROCK –– Governor Asa Hutchinson signed Executive Order 19-14 today establishing the Buffalo River Conservation Committee (BRCC) and announced that $2 million in state and private funds will be allocated for conservation and water quality grants within the Buffalo River Watershed.
In 2016, at the direction of Governor Hutchinson, the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee (BBRAC) was organized to establish an Arkansas-led approach to identify and address potential issues of concern in the Buffalo River Watershed through the development of a non-regulatory, watershed-based management plan.
BRCC is the next step in the process, and members of the committee will utilize the watershed management plan to prioritize and fund projects in the most critical areas of the watershed.
“We want the protection and enhancement of water quality in the Buffalo River Watershed to continue as a state-led effort,” said Governor Hutchinson. “Now that the watershed management plan is in place, it is the right time to engage with stakeholders and landowners to start implementing projects that make a difference. The Buffalo National River is an irreplaceable resource, both for Arkansas and the nation. Protecting its quality and enhancing its value as a driver of economic development will require a unique cooperative effort. The Buffalo River Conservation Committee comprises the state departments with the most engagement in the watershed, and I am confident in their ability to connect with other engaged leaders to coordinate this effort.”
The State of Arkansas, pending legislative approval, will provide $1 million from the Governor’s discretionary funds to the grant programs, which will be aided by an additional $1 million from the Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation.
The committee will be composed of the following Cabinet Secretaries or their designates:
BRCC shall establish subcommittees to lead various aspects of implementing the watershed management plan.
For the purpose of establishing subcommittees, the BRCC shall engage and include key stakeholders representing local landowners, conservation organizations, environmental and technical experts, representatives of the tourism industry, local county and municipal officials and federal partners as identified by the Committee.
All members of the BRCC shall work in cooperation with one another to identify opportunities to leverage their Department’s unique expertise, relationships, focus areas, and funding mechanisms in support of the vitality of the watershed.
There shall be an annual review of the Buffalo River Watershed Management Plan, with recommendations for updates of the plan and a report on successes during the year as identified by BRCC to be submitted to the Governor’s Office.
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Storms caused the greatest increase in pollutants from an industrial hog farm in northern Arkansas, a water expert said Tuesday during a talk at MU.
Andrew Sharpley, a distinguished professor of soils and water quality at the University of Arkansas, found that the greatest pollution threat to the Buffalo National River watershed came from nitrogen and phosphorus spread in just two storms over a five-year period. His team was sponsored by the state legislature to monitor the ecological impact of C&H Hog Farms.
Sharpley talked to graduate students as part of a series of seminars sponsored by the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. He talked to about 40 students and a handful of faculty about the challenges and takeaways from his study on watershed impact from the now-closed C&H Hog Farms in Newton County, Arkansas.
CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations, like C&H Hog Farms, which had a permit for 6,500 hogs, have been a subject of debate in Missouri this year and especially since Gov. Mike Parson signed Senate Bill 391.
The bill prohibits county health boards from enacting more stringent regulations of CAFOs than state law, according to previous Missourian reporting. The bill was signed into law by the governor in May, but Cole County Presiding Judge Patricia Joyce issued a temporary restraining order to delay the bill from going into effect, as its constitutionality is in question. This has given county health boards additional time to enact new regulation of the feeding operations, since SB 391 will not have a retroactive effect on the law, Ken Midkiff previously told the Missourian.
In Arkansas, the C&H farm was a divisive venture from the start, as there was strong community opposition to industrial farming, Sharpley said. Community concern about the Buffalo River was already high due to past contamination. The river was declared biologically dead in 1967, and in 1968, it caught fire due to the its content of oil and grease, which Sharpley said spurred the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972.
C&H also raised concerns about how pollution could impact river tourism demand, which generates roughly $1.5 million annually, he said.
However, there was also strong support for C&H as the farm was expected to create jobs and benefit the local economy. Among the supporters were farmers who thought that since the planning requirements met the standards to attain permits, the right to farm was in jeopardy.
Sharpley’s team was focused on measuring the impact on nearby streams, springs, groundwater and soil, which were at risk of impact from nutrients and bacteria present in the C&H manure slurry.
His team found that the greatest amount of nitrogen and phosphate on the farm and adjacent waterways was caused by “100-year storms,” which occurred twice during the five-year study. Increases in the chemicals are a problem because both nutrients lead to algal blooms, which can absorb too much oxygen in the water and cause mass die-offs of marine life. Algae blooms and die-offs cause bacterial growth and release toxins which increase the likelihood of sickness for people who come into contact with contaminated water, according to the EPA.
Sharpley attributed these changes to climate change, “or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “It’s indicative of changing weather patterns the region is seeing.”
Local agricultural activist and retired U.S Geological Survey technical information specialist Jeanne Heuser, who attended Sharpley’s talk, said “there’s a real disconnect” between farmers’ desire for economic freedom and their support of CAFOs. Heuser a Moniteau County resident, said after Tuesday’s talk that she’s concerned about the public health effects and foreign and corporate ownership of CAFOs.
Studies have shown factory farms make it harder for small farming operations to compete, and drive down regional wages due to their employment of fewer high-paying jobs than multiple family farms would require.
A 2008 analysis by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production found that because of the benefits CAFOs collect through tax breaks and government subsidies, they can actually act as a burden to taxpayers. Their presence has also been linked to decreased retail trade, higher rates of poverty and less active main streets.
Sharpley’s team has yet to complete its final report on the C&H study. Its methodology and data are being further reviewed for accuracy by an independent panel of experts. Sharpley cautioned that years of additional field study are still needed to draw clear conclusions about runoff and its potential risk to watersheds, due to the lack of scientific control in field studies.
“Some of these effects might be long-term effects,” he said. “(C&H’s) impact may not be apparent now, but in a couple more years, after it rains, we might see some more impact.”
Meanwhile, C&H farm has closed as the state found that its permits shouldn’t have been approved in the first place. The farm’s owners accepted $6.2 million to shut down the facility,according to reporting by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.
Nation of Change
Protesters around the world are singling out the bad actors profiting off deforestation.
September 11, 2019
While the world watches in horror as fires rage on in the Amazon, activists are shining a light on the big businesses destroying what’s popularly known as the “lungs of the Earth.” On September 5, people around the globe stood in solidarity with the rainforest’s indigenous communities by partaking in the Global Day of Action for the Amazon, staging protests and singling out the bad actors profiting off deforestation.
In Washington, D.C. protesters chanted “Put out the flames, we name your names — politicians, corporate vultures, you’re the ones we blame,” as they marched from the White House to the Brazilian Consulate. Activists around the world have been protesting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has steadily rolled back indigenous land rights and environmental protections from his very first hours in office. A coalition — which includes Amazon Watch and Friends of the Earth, among others — is also putting pressure on the multinational corporations turning a profit off the destruction of the Amazon.
Amazon Watch, a California-based organization that works in concert with indigenous and environmental groups, issued a report earlier this year documenting the dozens of companies that stand to make money as Bolsonaro strips regulations in Brazil. The report, titled Complicity in Destruction, highlights the main drivers of deforestation — from soy and beef commodity traders like Cargill and JBS, to their financiers in North America and Europe, like BlackRock, Santander, and JP Morgan Chase. And research from Mighty Earth has documented the retailers most associated with those traders, like Costco, Walmart, and Ahold Delhaize — which owns Stop & Shop, Giant, and Food Lion.
Protesters in D.C. took aim at the U.S.-based companies highlighted in the campaign to defund deforestation. “There are many, many large corporations in the United States — including Cargill, ADM and BlackRock — who all have a hand in the destruction of the Amazon and we encourage all Americans to use their economic power to put pressure on these companies to do the right thing,” Todd Larsen, the Executive Co-Director for Consumer & Corporate Engagement at Green America told Inequality.org. Green America is encouraging Americans to use their investments to put economic pressure on the companies profiting off deforestation.
“The only reason these companies are able to keep burning down the forest year over year is because their customers keep paying them to do so,” Bárbara Amaral of Brazilians for Democracy and Social Justice told the crowd in D.C. “It’s time for supermarket giants like Costco, Walmart, Ahold, to immediately suspend contacts with Cargill and JBS, and for the public to show up at the front doors of Cargill headquarters and yell that it’s time to protect the Amazon.”
Protecting the environment must include structural changes to the economy that keep companies from making a quick buck off climate disaster, protesters said. “I came out today because I am in support of changing the climate debate into a debate that is critical about the current economic system that exists in the world that is perpetuating climate change,” Gabby Rosazza, a campaigner with the International Labor Rights Forum told Inequality.org. “In particular, I’m tired of hearing about how individual actions can address climate change such as buying metal straws versus plastic straws. I’m more interested in learning about who is profiting from climate change.”
One of the companies profiting the most? BlackRock — the largest asset manager in the world. A report released last month by Amazon Watch and Friends of the Earth found BlackRock to be among the top three shareholders in 25 of the largest publicly-traded deforestation-risk companies. And the asset manager’s deforestation presence grew by more than $500 million between 2014 and 2018. Activists in London, Stockholm, San Francisco, Boston and Hong Kong targeted BlackRock during Thursday’s Global Day of Action, holding protests and die-ins outside the asset manager’s offices.
The recent report and protests are the latest addition to a pressure campaign mounting on BlackRock for continuously profiting off climate destruction, from the Amazon to the Alberta tar sands to Arctic oil reserves. Indigenous and environmental activists held protests at BlackRock’s annual general meeting earlier this year. Luiz Eloy Terena, legal counsel for the National Indigenous Organization of Brazil (also known as APIB) and a member of Brazil’s indigenous Terena community, expressed her criticism to BlackRock CEO Larry Fink directly during the meeting and demanded an audit of BlackRock investees operating on Brazilian indigenous territories.
“Brazilian indigenous peoples and lands are under immense threat from the beef and soy industries working hand in glove with the Bolsonaro regime to undermine protections that keep our forests standing and our climate stable,” Terena said in a statement released after his conversation with Fink.
“When BlackRock funnels investments to these bad actors in Brazil, it is complicit in the destruction of tropical forests and violation of human rights. BlackRock must use its significant influence over these companies to signal that it will not tolerate policies that violate indigenous rights and damage the climate.”
FRAN ALEXANDER: Not out of the blue
Saving of Buffalo River — again — took committed advocates
by Fran Alexander
"I could not not do something."
-- Ginny Masullo,
Buffalo River activist
Over years of observing the process of participation in our political system by citizens wanting either to change or to create something entirely new for their community, state or nation, I've seen a consistent thread. Real grass-roots work takes sacrifice and selflessness. Oh, I know NIMBY accusations are thrown at folks, who are told they are selfishly defending their immediate turf, but "not in my back yard" falls apart as an intimidation tactic if people can make a case that their grievances affect the whole.
John Donne's "no man is an island; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main," is at the core of why activism of any kind succeeds, because the first order of business in any effort is to find others who feel as you do. You cannot remain an island in a complex society if you're trying to change things. Yet, oftentimes in the beginning of some issues, things can feel quite lonely until others begin to show up to talk and develop goals and actions.
The fight to save the Buffalo River -- again -- is a textbook case of grass-roots struggle. The closure of the hog farm in the river's watershed is now just in its beginning phase. Multiple stages of legal and financial hoops must be jumped through before anyone can breathe easy that the river will no longer be victim to spreading of thousands of gallons of hog manure on fields, which continues until the facility's final closure months from now.
Protection for this watershed did not just happen in a vacuum or isolation. It took over six years of work by people whose names you don't know and whose faces you would not recognize. After learning the state, with little public notice, had permitted this hog farm to be built, people began to come together from small towns and rural areas near the river and eventually from across Arkansas and other states.
They brought different perspectives, strategies, talents, professions and passions to focus on the goal of protecting this river from pollution. One person with a science background told me her first action was researching water all the way from the U.S. Clean Water Act down to the components in hog manure, and reading every law, permit and research document she could find. Others did the physical work of water testing in the watershed, including in caves. Some people concentrated on how the state's permitting process worked, or didn't, and others sought legal avenues.
To hire lawyers meant fundraising, and for six years organizations held silent auctions, dinners, educational programs, and numerous letter-writing events. They personally lobbied legislators, had a farmers market table for five years, applied for grants, sought national organizations' help, printed bumper stickers and handouts, spoke to civic groups and analyzed other factory farm battles.
And then there was the music. Donna and Kelly Mulhollan of Still On the Hill traveled the state singing only of the beauty and history of the river and giving away their "Still A River" CDs at about 20 free concerts. Close to 10 large concerts and numerous small ones were donated by musicians and organized, publicized and run by volunteers. Photographers, artists, crafts artisans and others donated their works to raise money. Journalist Mike Masterson kept updating the Buffalo's status in the press, reminding readers that this natural wonder, the state's crown jewel, was being killed.
Participating organizations were the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Ozark Society, the Ozark River Stewards, Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers, the White River Waterkeeper, the National Parks Conservation Association, Earth Justice and the Nature Conservancy.
Unpaid volunteers traveled across the state at their own expense for hundreds of hours of meetings and fundraisers and to Little Rock for hearings and to meet with legislators. People put their lives on hold, one leader devoting 20 to 30 hours a week to the effort, while others risked their jobs and some even received threats. Activism is not for the weak of heart or faint of spirit. It is passion driven. And to win, resolve must not drop.
We should all thank Gov. Asa Hutchinson for finally correcting a wrong decision by a state agency during Gov. Mike Beebe's term. And the governor should in turn thank those people of Arkansas, who took six years out of their lives to save this river -- again.
Commentary on 08/27/2019
by Linda Satter | August 14, 2019
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and seven other media organizations have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a federal lawsuit challenging what animal-welfare groups call the "Arkansas Ag-Gag" law.
The lawsuit was filed June 25 by four legal-advocacy groups -- the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Equality, Center for Biological Diversity and Food Chain Workers Alliance -- to challenge the constitutionality of Arkansas Code 16-118-113, which was enacted in 2017.
The plaintiffs say the law allows farm organizations to protect themselves from undercover investigations by animal-advocacy groups.
The defendants are state Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, and her husband, Jonathan Vaught, as well as Peco Foods Inc., an Alabama-based poultry farm that has facilities in Arkansas. The Vaughts own a hog farm called Prayer Creek Farm in Horatio, which the lawsuit says can house 1,200 pigs.
The organizations say they want to send undercover investigators into Prayer Creek Farms and Peco Foods but can't because of the 2017 law, which they say violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
DeAnn Vaught was behind the law, which creates an avenue for civil litigation against anyone who releases documents or recordings from a non-public area of commercial property with the intent of causing harm to the owner. The law was backed by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, the Agricultural Council of Arkansas and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Legislators said at the time that the law would do nothing to subvert state and federal protections for people who expose illegal practices. The sponsor -- Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch -- said manufacturing plants in Arkansas have "processes" that keep them in business but are off-limits to cameras.
But the advocacy groups say the threat of penalty is an effort by the industry to hide production methods, and is part of a nationwide effort to suppress speech by penalizing investigations meant to reveal illegal and unethical conduct in the animal agriculture industry.
In a brief filed Monday, the group led by the Reporters Committee, a nonprofit association of reporters and editors with no parent corporation and no stock, urges U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. to deny the defendants' motion to dismiss.
"As news media outlets and organizations dedicated to defending the First Amendment and the news-gathering rights of journalists, amici have a strong interest in this case," the brief states, adding that the news groups "have a powerful interest in ensuring that journalists are able to report on matters of concern to the public without facing unconstitutional impediments to their news-gathering activities."
"The ability of whistleblowers and other sources to inform journalists of dangerous, illegal, or unethical activities -- and to provide documentation and evidence of those activities -- without fear of criminal liability -- is central to journalists' ability to do their jobs effectively," says the brief filed by attorney Alec Gaines of the Williams and Anderson law firm in Little Rock.
The other news groups joining in the brief are the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the International Documentary Association, The Media Institute, Radio Television Digital News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.
In a brief filed July 19 in support of Peco Foods' motion to dismiss, attorney Michael B. Heister with the Quattlebaum, Grooms & Tull firm in Little Rock argued that the lawsuit isn't the result of an actual dispute but instead seeks an advisory opinion. He said the plaintiffs want to know that if they take certain actions and are sued, the law -- also known as the Trespass Statute -- will be deemed to have been violated. But "a bunch of 'ifs' does not create a valid case or controversy" that a federal judge is permitted to resolve, Heister added.
He called the law in question "straightforward," saying it provides a civil course of action for businesses against anyone who obtains access to the business under false pretenses; goes into a non-public, off-limits area; and "commits unauthorized acts," such as stealing documents or planting hidden cameras, that damage the operator.
The defense contends that the plaintiffs lack standing, a vested interest in the outcome, to pursue a lawsuit, "and, in any event, cannot sue a private party for these alleged constitutional violations."
The news groups' brief argues, "Members of the public cannot themselves monitor the agricultural facilities that produce their food; they depend on members of the media to do so, and to keep them informed about matters implicating health and safety. [The 2017 law] stymies the ability of news organizations to gather news and report on such matters of significant public interest."
The brief argues that state laws intended to protect the agricultural industry by concealing practices and penalizing whistleblowers have consistently been struck down as unconstitutional.
Metro on 08/14/2019
MASTERSON ONLINE: Saving our Buffalo
Many Arkansas rightfully wondered a year ago if the hog factory our state wrongheadedly permitted into the fragile Buffalo National River watershed in 2012 would forever be spraying millions of gallons of raw waste onto fields along a major tributary of the river flowing six miles upstream of the Buffalo.
Thankfully, that answer came not long ago when Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced C&H Hog Farms would be bought out, closed and cleaned up at a fair price. His decision and announcement brought squeals of delight and some tickled-pink rejoicing across Arkansas.
Little wonder since many thousands among us, along with more than a million out-of-state visitors, each year enjoy the magnificence and beauty of the country's first national river flowing through the heart of the Ozarks.
And now, a story by reporter Emily Walkenhorst says the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission is moving to establish protections that would ensure medium and large hog farms are permanently banned from setting up shop in this fragile and porous watershed.
Farms are federally classified as small, medium or large. Medium facilities are defined as 750 or more swine of over 55 pounds, or 3,000 or more hogs weighing 55 pounds or less. Such meat producers have been banned in the watershed since 2014, but only only temporarily, pending the conclusion of the Big Creek Research and Extension Team's research on C&H's impact on Big Creek and the Buffalo River, Walkenhorst wrote.
While many remain pleased by the prospect of a permanent ban in the Buffalo watershed, there lingers the relevant question of how our Department of Environmental Quality (cough) could have permitted this factory into a region this same department actively protected by moratorium just two decades ago.
Who in the agency quietly helped shepherd this destructive plan through to completion? What outside lobbying interests also helped push it? Why would public employees at the time assist Cargill in making it happen, especially without the agency director at the time even knowing her department had issued the permit?
Listen to a 1992 interview with Dr. Neil Compton on KUAF Radio
By KYLE KELLAMS • AUG 9, 2019
Tomorrow is Dr. Compton Day in Bentonville, honoring the man who played a central role in saving the Buffalo River. In 1992, Neil Compton talked to us about his book, Battle for the the Buffalo.
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