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  • 24 Feb 2023 1:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Mitchell Williams environmental law blog

    Ozark-St. Francis National Forest/Prescribed Burn/Logging/National Environmental Policy Act: Buffalo River Watershed Alliance Files Action Against United States Forest Service

    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (“BRWA”) filed a February 21st Complaint for Vacatur of Illegal Agency Decision, Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (“Complaint”) against the United States Forest Service (“Forest Service”) alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). See Case No. 3:23-cv-03012-TLB.

    The Complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas addressing what is denominated the Robert’s Gap Project (“Project”) which is stated to consist of:

    . . . a prescribed burn, logging, and chemical herbicide treatment in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests within the Headwater Buffalo River watershed (USGS hydrologic unit code 1101000502).

    The cited federal statute (NEPA) requires federal agencies to include environmental values and issues in their decision-making processes. This federal mandate is accomplished by agency consideration of the environmental impacts of proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions.

    NEPA requires federal agencies in certain instances to prepare a detailed Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”). However, the requirement to produce this document or a supplemental version (Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement [SEIS]) is only triggered in the event of a major federal action or an additional action that will significantly affect the environment.

    NEPA differs from action enforcing environmental statutory programs such as the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act. It does not impose substantive mandates. Instead, it is limited to requiring federal agencies to meet procedural requirements such as preparation of an EIS of SEIS in certain defined instances. As a result, NEPA does not require a certain alternative or to meet a particular standard. Nevertheless, in the event NEPA’s procedural requirements are not met, actions of a federal agency can be enjoined.

    The Complaint alleges that a Forest Service decision approves the prescribed burning, logging, and woodland herbicide treatment of approximately 40,000 for forest within the headwaters of Buffalo River Watershed. This is alleged to include the known habitat of the Indiana bat, an endangered species.

    Implementation of the project will (as alleged) cause:

    . . . loss of Cedar, Oak, and Pine trees, destruction of old growth forest as eighty six percent of the Project contains forest stands 70 years old or more, wildlife habitat, and potential degradation of water quality.

    Based on these alleged facts BRWA requests that the United States District Court order enter and Order:

    1. Declaring that the Forest Service’s DN/FONSI for the Robert’s Gap Project violates NEPA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq., and declaring that the Service’s failure to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Assessment (“SEA”) or Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“SEIS”); to account for significant new circumstances or information also violates NEPA, and are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and/or not in accordance with law under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) and are a continuing failure to act under § 706(1);
    2. Declaring that the Forest Service must conduct either a SEA or SEIS;
    3. Vacating and setting aside the Forest Service’s illegal DN/FONSI as an illegal agency action under the APA;
    4. Permanently enjoining the Forest Service from implementing the Robert’s Gap Project until the agency complies with NEPA;
    5. Enter preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to ensure that the Forest Service complies with NEPA, and specifically to ensure that the Forest Service and its agents take no further actions toward proceeding with the challenged Robert’s Gap Project until they have complied with NEPA;
    6. Awarding Plaintiff its reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412; and
    7. Grant such further relief as the Court deems just and equitable.

    A copy of the Complaint can be downloaded here.

  • 10 Aug 2022 3:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Newton County Times

    Buffalo River Watershed Enhancement Project encouraging landowners to develop ponds

    By the U of A System Division of Agriculture

    Fast Facts:

    Buffalo River Watershed Enhancement Project working to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality
    Buffalo River Watershed encourages installing ponds, alternative watering systems to protect water quality

    LITTLE ROCK — Farmers and ranchers living in the Buffalo River Watershed should consider pond construction as insurance against drought and to ensure a high-quality water supply for livestock and crops.

    “The current flash drought in Arkansas brings one of the most important reasons to focus,” said John Pennington, extension water quality educator for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Water is the most critical need for crops, livestock and wildlife most of the time. Livestock and crops, especially, have little ability to adapt to water restrictions, and optimal growth and production can be interrupted as a result of only short periods without water.”

    Pennington said landowners within the Buffalo National River Watershed are especially encouraged to establish ponds on their property as part of an alternative watering system for livestock that could also involve use of a spring, or piping water to different fields.
    “Ponds are important for many reasons,” Pennington said. “They’re a simple way to help meet water demand and quality for your crops, livestock and wildlife, maybe to build a pond and fence it to exclude livestock.”

    Slowing nutrient movement
    While these practices will help meet water demand, aspects associated with these practices will also protect help protect water quality of the water source and water quality downstream by preventing erosion and nutrient loss from fields and receiving streams, he said.
    “The benefits of ponds extend beyond the property where they are located,” Pennington said. “Ponds have been shown to reduce peak flows of streams during rain events by decreasing runoff, capture potential pollutants to waterways such as nutrients and sediment and reduce streambank erosion.”
    While nutrients are important for crops and pastures, too much can cause illness or feed buildup of cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, which feed on nitrogen and phosphorus.
    Bacteria can contribute to health issues for livestock, recreation enthusiasts and anyone who consumes irrigated crop food products if it is present at high enough levels.
    The Cooperative Extension Service is working with multiple agencies and organizations, including the Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and others to form the Buffalo River Watershed Enhancement Project, which seeks to help reduce the forces of soil erosion. There is $359,851 Natural Resource Conservation Funding obligated for agricultural conservation as part of the Buffalo River Watershed Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
    The partnership makes hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding available to landowners participating in the project each year. To learn more, visit

  • 25 Jul 2022 7:55 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Algae blooming on Buffalo River, but ecologists say it’s just a nuisance for now

    Natural occurrences common, harmless, but could worsen, they say 

    by Bill Bowden | Today at 7:14 a.m.

    With Arkansas' July heat wave, algae has been blooming on the Buffalo National River.

    Lucas Driver of Little Rock, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Lower Mississippi Gulf Water Science Center, said the filamentous algae blooms are naturally occurring in just about all fresh waters, but they can reach nuisance levels under certain conditions.

    "If these blooms get worse, then you might start seeing negative impacts on visitors to the state's crown jewel of the Buffalo River," he said.

    The national park attracts about a million visitors a year. Most of them don't go there for the algae.

    "Bloom" refers to colonies of algae growing out of control.

    What most people see on the Buffalo River is non-toxic algae of the genus Spirogyra, Driver said. "Lime green, slimy, hairlike filaments that can grow to be several feet long under certain conditions," he said.

    Sometimes they grow from the riverbed to the surface, where they are called mats.

    "That's when people start getting upset," Driver said. "It can be a real deterrent to people who are out there trying to swim or fish."

    After a storm, the algae can become detached from rocks, pebbles or bedrock and float downstream like "little river tumbleweeds," Driver said.

    Buffalo River algal blooms have been documented in field notebooks over the past several decades as well as in earlier historical reports.

    According to a 1978 report on the Buffalo River, "Copious blooms of Spirogyra are associated with deep pools with large rocks and a sand-silt base. ... Cattle access at Tyler Bend appears to be directly related to localized and extremely heavy Spirogyra bloom."

    According to a 2018 news release from the national park, "Some algae is important to a healthy ecosystem and most species are harmless, although a nuisance to paddlers, swimmers and fishers."

    "Most of our blooms are just nuisance algae," said Shawn Hodges, an ecologist with the Buffalo National River. "It's unsightly. It's not aesthetically pleasing, but it's there. ... I'm not surprised to hear reports of algal blooms this time of year, especially when we're having 100-degree days."

    "Especially in the height of the summer, you're going to find algae at some places, and a little bit of algae is not a big deal," Driver said. "Algae blooms to some extent are not a big deal. It's a naturally occurring thing. It's unpleasant for people to be around. It can turn into an ecological stressor as we call it under certain conditions."

    If the algae blooms on the river continue to grow, they could rob fish, frogs and invertebrates of oxygen. Driver said algae could displace organisms or disrupt their ability to access required habitats for feeding, reproduction or refuge from predators.

    "We see blooms that can flare up in the late summer and fall," Driver said. "Typically, when it gets cooler, those blooms start to die off in the late fall and winter."

    Hodges said he has worked at the national park since 2004. He saw algae blooms that year and the next, but says they're more extensive now. Hodges said he's never seen an algae bloom on the Buffalo that killed fish.


    After anecdotal reports of large algae blooms on the river in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the Geological Survey -- working with the National Park Service -- began monitoring river water at regular intervals and checking for algae. Volunteers from state agencies also assist.

    As part of the study, water quality is checked for nutrients every four to eight weeks at two dozen sites along a 70-mile stretch of the river from the Hasty bridge to Rush, Driver said. A visual assessment for algae is made for about 500 meters of the river at 12 of those testing sites. A detailed survey is done in areas when filamentous algae is present.

    "It's not a perfect snapshot," Driver said. "It gives us a representation of the spatial extent of the algae. This is just kind of one snapshot, one avenue, one piece of the puzzle. There's lots of work to be done."

    He said suspected causes of algae blooms include heat, excessive sunlight, low-flow hydrology and nutrients in the water. Nutrients include elements such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

    "The watershed in general has lots of different nutrient sources, from agriculture, humans -- there's septics, there's chicken houses, there's pasture, there's hayfields that get fertilized," Driver said.

    He said the area's karst terrain could allow nutrients to enter the river from underground sources such as sinkholes, caves and springs.

    Hodges said algae provides food for fish.

    "We have fish that just feed on algae," he said. "There's always algae present all year long. It's always there, but sometimes conditions are perfect for a bloom to occur. At this point, we're still trying to figure out what the main cause is."

    In general, the Buffalo River is considered a very low-nutrient watershed, Driver said.

    "The Buffalo is pristine," he said. "That's one of the reasons it's a national park. Water quality historically has been very, very good. It's still considered a very low-nutrient system."

    Driver said there's no real rule for what constitutes too much algae, and algae is more common in lakes than rivers.

    After a public survey in 2012, West Virginia ecologists decided that 40% filamentous algae coverage of a streambed -- regardless of the bloom length -- is the point at which algae is interfering with the recreational use of the stream.

    "We currently don't have that definition in place," Driver said of Arkansas.

    Last week, during a survey of the Buffalo River, ecologists found less than 10% algae coverage at some of the 12 testing sites, Driver said. At other sites, algae covered more of the riverbed, but specific estimates of coverage hadn't been analyzed as of Friday.

    "What we're seeing right now I wouldn't consider out of the ordinary, but the summer isn't over yet," Driver said.

    He said the algae was generally more dense on the lower Buffalo River, where it's wider and more shallow, with some deep pools.

    "Based on our experience, algae is typically more prevalent in the lower part of the river, downstream of Tyler Bend," he said.

    Driver said he saw some filamentous algae that had grown to the extent that it was forming mats on top of the water.

    "I didn't see any huge mats," he said. "I saw a couple of places along the edge of the river where the algae was starting to accumulate on the surface."

    Driver said the current phase of the nutrient water-quality study is winding down, and they are exploring ways to continue the research.

    While the water study has been underway for 4.5 years, Driver said more time is needed to gather data and explore relative trends.

    Spirogyra is mostly a nuisance, but other algae is classified as harmful.

    "Ranging from microscopic, single-celled organisms to large seaweeds, algae are simple plants that form the base of food webs," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Sometimes, however, their roles are more sinister. Under the right conditions, algae may grow out of control -- and a few of these 'blooms' produce toxins that can kill fish, mammals and birds and may cause human illness or even death in extreme cases. Other algae are nontoxic, but eat up all of the oxygen in the water as they decay, clog the gills of fish and invertebrates or smother corals and submerged aquatic vegetation. Still others discolor water, form huge, smelly piles on beaches or contaminate drinking water. Collectively, these events are called harmful algal blooms, or HABs."

    While NOAA is talking mostly about the ocean there, some harmful algae can be found in freshwater streams.

    Cyanobacteria, often called "blue-green algae," is naturally occurring in most freshwater streams, including the Buffalo River. It can produce toxins and is considered a harmful algae, and it caused problems on the Buffalo in 2018.

    "... A species of blue-green algae (also called cyanobacteria) has been identified within the river," according to a July 27, 2018, news release citing Hodges. "This species has the potential to produce cyanotoxins, which can be harmful to humans and pets. Unfortunately, you cannot tell if the algae would produce cyanotoxins just by looking at it. A few visitors have reported illnesses after swimming in areas with algae this month."


    Environmentalists thought a large hog farm, which closed in January 2020, might be to blame for a spike in nutrients in the Buffalo River.

    In 2012, the state permitted C&H Hog Farm to operate a farm near Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo River. The farm was allowed to house up to 6,503 hogs, although it normally operated with about 3,000.

    After years of controversy, in 2018 the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality denied C&H a permit to continue operating the farm.

    The next year, Arkansas paid C&H $6.2 million for the farm land, which is being used as a conservation easement to protect the river.

    From 2016-18, Driver participated in a study of Big Creek and the Buffalo River.

    The study looked at monthly nutrient concentrations and the response of periphyton in the Buffalo River both upstream and downstream from its confluence with Big Creek. Periphyton refers to aquatic organisms including plants, algae and bacteria that live attached to underwater surfaces such as rocks on a riverbed.

    "Basically, we went out and scraped algae off of rocks," Driver said. "It was standardized. There were a certain number of rocks we'd pick up from the streambed."

    Some of what they found was to be expected.

    "Nutrients in Big Creek were higher than in the main stem, but that is not surprising and that is not unusual for tributaries of the Buffalo River," Driver said.

    And in the Buffalo River?

    "There was no significant difference in nutrient concentrations upstream and downstream, but there appeared to be a slight difference in the periphyton communities downstream, which could indicate a response to even subtle changes in nutrient concentrations," Driver said.

    Cassie Branstetter, a spokeswoman for the Buffalo National River, said she's received no complaints this year regarding algal blooms.

    Branstetter said the park hasn't tried to remove any algae.

    "Algae could be removed with algaecides, but in a natural environment that would be very detrimental to the ecosystem," she said. "These are typically used in fountains and other man-made water features to keep them looking pretty."

  • 07 Jul 2022 3:56 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Smithsonian Magazine for photos and graphics


    What Makes the Buffalo River the Jewel of the Ozarks

    An unabashed tribute to the wild Arkansas waterway that became the nation’s first national river 50 years ago

    Photographs by Rory Doyle

    Text by Bruce Upholt

    If smoothed out flat, the rough mountainous terrain of Newton County, Arkansas, would prove “bigger’n the whole state of Texas,” a local resident once proclaimed to a folklorist. That may be an exaggeration, but the wrinkles of the topography have certainly kept this corner of the Ozarks quiet. Fewer than 8,000 people live scattered across Newton County’s 820 square miles. The place is mostly known for a waterway. Near the county’s western border, a trickling stream grows into the Buffalo River—the first national river in the United States, a distinction it earned 50 years ago.

    For a long time Arkansans couldn’t agree on what the river should be used for, and some even fought over it. In the 1940s, with the local timber felled and the zinc and lead operations floundering, state tourism officials started promoting Newton County as a wilderness destination. The county was home to nearly half of the Buffalo River watershed, and outdoors enthusiasts considered the mountain stream one of the finest in the region, if not the country; it was a rare, free-flowing waterway, perfect for rafting or canoeing. Some local leaders wanted to turn the watershed into a national park. Others wanted to dam the river, which could provide hydroelectric power and form the kind of placid lake that had spurred the development of lodges, restaurants and retirement homes elsewhere in the Ozarks.

    For their part, many people who lived alongside the river opposed both the dam and the national park. They didn’t want their farms drowned, and they weren’t eager to give up their property for what one of them derisively called a “130-mile-long zoo.” In 1965, when supporters of a national park idea organized a canoe race, they arrived to find that someone had blocked the Buffalo with downed trees and barbed wire.

    In a 1966 speech, Gov. Orval Faubus (a Democrat who had become infamous for his opposition to school desegregation) voiced his strong support for the formation of a national park. He fondly looked back on his own encounters with the river as a younger man: “Like a suitor courting a lovely maiden who becomes more enamored with her charms each visit, so was I with the Buffalo River Valley.” Faubus’ campaign to protect the Buffalo was joined by other prominent Arkansas politicians, including John Paul Hammerschmidt, a Republican who began serving in the U.S. Congress in 1967. Hammerschmidt sponsored a bill to make the Buffalo a national river.

    At the time, politicians of both political parties were taking steps to protect the environment. President Richard Nixon inaugurated the Environmental Protection Agency in December 1970. The Clean Air Act passed a few weeks later with unanimous support in the Senate and only one opposing vote in the House of Representatives.

    The Buffalo River bill also passed easily, and on March 1, 1972, Nixon signed it into law. The Buffalo and 135 miles of its banks were now part of a portfolio of landscapes that were considered America’s natural crown jewels, including Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. (The river’s westernmost 18 miles were under separate protection as part of the Ozark National Forest.) In 1978, the New River Gorge in West Virginia was also designated a national river, but the area was recently converted to a national park and preserve. Other rivers today have National Park Service protection under different names, such as national river and recreation area, and national scenic waterway. The national wild and scenic rivers system, inaugurated in the late 1960s, includes other bodies of water but does not guarantee NPS involvement. When it comes to the simple title of “national river,” the Buffalo stands alone.

    I first visited the Buffalo a decade ago, on an April trip with friends. It was float season, that time in spring and early summer when the upper river is deep enough for canoes. The water, cold and clear, tumbled over gravel bars and curled past craggy cliffs. It had carved a passageway through an otherwise forbidding landscape of shale and sandstone and limestone. It was a perfectly contained little wildland.

    Or so it seemed. Shortly afterward, in 2012, Arkansas granted a permit for a new hog farm, which soon opened along one of the Buffalo River’s tributaries. The hog waste was stored in large lagoons. If the clay liners gave way or the lagoons weren’t properly pumped down, manure could seep into the tributaries. Even if the lagoons held, the manure would eventually be converted to fertilizer and sprayed on nearby fields, which some local residents worried would overload the river with phosphorus. Gordon Watkins, an organic blueberry farmer in Newton County, co-founded the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, one of a handful of nonprofits that worked together to fight the farm. “The river is nothing but the sum of its tributaries,” Watkins says. “Whatever happens in those tributaries is going to impact the Buffalo.” The state received a record volume of complaints about the permit, and while there were never any confirmed leaks, inspections indicated that lagoon liners had cracked and eroded, leaving the state’s water supply vulnerable.

    In 2019, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, moved to shut down the hog farm, directing $6.2 million in state funds to compensate the farmers. (The Nature Conservancy also made significant contributions.) Like Faubus, Hutchinson was a self-declared outdoorsman who had enjoyed his own jaunts on the Buffalo River. “I was in law school when I discovered the Buffalo River,” he said in a speech, “and like so many Arkansans, I value the Buffalo as a particularly beautiful part of God’s creation.” Hutchinson formed the Buffalo River Conservation Committee, which brings together state agencies and others to monitor and improve the 855,000-acre watershed linked to the river.

    Threats remain, of course. Heavy rains carry dirt off unpaved roads and into the river. The U.S. Forest Service has plans to thin and burn portions of the forests near the river’s headwaters, which some worry could affect water quality in the river. Summer algae blooms on the river have been more prolific in recent years; the cause likely involves excess nutrient input from agricultural fertilizer and soil washing into the river. “All these things that are going on outside the river have direct impact inside the river,” says Mark Foust, superintendent of the Buffalo National River.

    After Foust assumed his post, in 2018, he set out to explore every stretch of the river within the park. He finished his quest last year, hiking into a canyon and launching in an inflatable raft—the only way to access the stretch nearest the source. Foust says he expected to find, at some point, a stretch of water that was less than scenic. He never did. Nor have I, in many return visits.

    On my latest trip, I hiked to one of the sites touted by state officials in the 1940s, Lost Valley, where a trail follows a creek up a rock-strewn canyon to its source. After a strenuous climb, past a series of waterfalls, we arrived at a tidy cascade pouring from the mouth of a cave. The end of the trail—or so we thought.

    Then two hikers wearing headlamps emerged from the cave’s dark maw. They urged us to go in. So we crawled on our hands and knees through a narrow crevice, lighting our way with cellphones, and reached a 25-foot waterfall, hidden within a pitch-black chamber. Thus we found ourselves inside the mountains themselves, washed in the crash of the cold, dark water where it all began.

    Rory Doyle | READ MORE

    Photographer Rory Doyle is committed to sharing stories of the Delta, from his base in Cleveland, Mississippi.

    Bruce Upholt | READ MORE

    New Orleans-based writer Boyce Upholt is currently working on a travelogue about the Mississippi River.

  • 16 May 2022 12:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Newton County Times

    Conservationists host legislators at BNR celebration

    The Ozark Society receives the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award.

    The Ozark Society receives the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award.



    Posted Monday, May 16, 2022 10:15 am

    By JEFF DEZORT Newton County Times

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

  • 12 Apr 2022 4:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansas Times

    Save the Buffalo River again and again


     Lindsey Millar  

    ON April 12, 2022

    Is there any part of Arkansas more widely beloved than the Buffalo River? The case for “The Natural State” being a fitting motto for Arkansas begins (and could almost end) with the crystal clear river, meandering through towering bluffs of the Boston Mountains in what feels like near pristine wilderness. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that an annual pilgrimage to the river is a minimum requirement for Arkansas citizenship. 

    For those of us who weren’t around in the 1960s and 1970s, when environmental activist Neil Compton and other conservationists faced down powerful forces who wanted to see the river dammed for hydroelectric power, there aren’t any hints of that terrible counterfactual on the river: For long stretches of the Buffalo, it feels as if what it is always was.

    March 1 marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Buffalo River as the United States’ first National River, and throughout the year Buffalo River National Park Service and the Ozark Society, formed 60 years ago by Compton and others to preserve the Buffalo, and other groups will hold events to celebrate the milestone year. June 9-12, the park service will celebrate the artistic inspiration the river provides with a student film festival at the Kenda Drive-In in Marshall, a folk storytelling event at the Buffalo Point Campground Amphitheater and a free music festival at Tyler Bend. Oct. 8-9 the park will host a photo geocaching scavenger hunt, a “yoga in the park” event at Steel Creek and Buffalo Point and a “moon party” at Tyler Bend with telescopes to enjoy stargazing in the park, one of the rare spots formally designated as a Dark Sky Place by the International Dark-Sky Association. In other words, because the Buffalo River is largely free from light pollution, it’s an ideal spot for stargazing. 

    Other celebrations will look back on the herculean effort involved in the establishment of the National River, something David Peterson, president of the Ozark Society, doesn’t believe would be possible today. “It was a sort of miracle built on dogged persistence and grassroots people,” he said. 

    But the work of conservation never ends. For those intimately acquainted with the Buffalo — or anyone who follows the news — that motto should be top of mind after the hog farm debacle. The story has many twists and turns, but here’s the short version: In 2012, the state foolishly awarded a permit to a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, for an industrial hog farm in Newton County, located near Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo. The permit allowed for up to 6,500 hogs; the C&H Hog Farm normally operated with a little less than half that. Still, that number of swine produced mountains of fecal waste, which had to spread across fields. Groups like the Buffalo Watershed Alliance raised the alarm, warning that the pig poop was likely to seep through the porous karst topography of the area into the watershed. In 2018, there were some 70 miles of algae blooms along the river. Algae forms naturally, but it’s stimulated by phosphorus, which excreta is full of. Though they were never able to make a direct link, the Buffalo Watershed Alliance and others suspected the CAFO as the culprit. 

    After long legal battles and years of activism, the state stepped in to correct its error, buying out the hog farm for $6.2 million and temporarily banning similar operations, but an effort to make the moratorium permanent was derailed by the Arkansas legislature, despite endorsement from Governor Hutchinson.

    Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo Watershed Alliance and a Newton County resident, believes that even without the ironclad protection a permanent ban would’ve provided, the likelihood of a similar operation returning to the watershed in the near to midterm is low. But the relatively small footprint of the park in the watershed requires constant vigilance.

    “Buffalo River National Park is a thin blue ribbon that only takes in 11% of the watershed,” Watkins said. “The other 89% is outside of the park’s control and sphere of influence. All of those tributaries, what’s done in them, has a direct impact on the Buffalo. It’s important to encourage private landowners to adopt practices that will help preserve the Buffalo so it’s clean and pristine. That’s what attracts visitors.” And money. A 2020 study from the park service found that visitors to the park spent an estimated $66 million in the region.

     Thankfully, state government and lawmakers are more engaged than ever, according to Watkins. The Buffalo River Conservation Committee, formed by Hutchinson a few months after the announcement of the hog farm buyout and seeded with $2 million for conservation and water quality grants, includes representatives from the state Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy and Environment, the Department of Health and the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. It’s helping with crucial but boring work: providing money to pave dirt roads that spill sediment into the watershed, to upgrade outdated area wastewater treatment plants and septic tanks, and to help ranchers keep cattle out of streams.

    Perhaps the most pernicious threat to the river today is a tricky one — it’s me and you and thousands of others who love the river. According to official park service records, 1.5 million people visited the park in 2021, just shy of the record 1.78 million in 2016. But those numbers, based on traffic counters throughout the 95,000-acre park, which includes 100 miles of road and 135 miles of waterway, likely represent an underestimate. “Crowdedness is a real problem,” the Ozark Society’s Peterson said. “There are too many people on the river.” Peterson hopes the National Park Service will address the issue through a permit system, though with so many access points and visitors who bring their own boats to float, that could prove logistically difficult. 

    The park service is in the beginning stages of a comprehensive river use and management plan, according to Cassie Branstetter, public information officer for Buffalo National River Park. It will update a plan that’s 40 years old and, it’s hoped, guide the park for the next 50 years. Branstetter said the process is in the early stages and will likely take several years, and include ample time for public comment, before completion. So don’t look for any official discussion of use restrictions anytime soon. 

    Ross Noland, a Little Rock lawyer and the executive director of the Buffalo River Foundation, grew up floating the river. His dad, retired engineer Stewart Noland, was one of the founding members of the Arkansas Canoe Club and among the group that made the first descent of the Hailstone, the wild, rapid-filled upper stretch of the Buffalo, from Dixon Ford to Boxley. Ross was on the river as young as 2 or 3, and he’s made regular pilgrimages with his elementary school-age children for years.

    His favorite stretch of the park is floating from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing. “But so is everyone else’s,” he said. “That’s because it’s the most beautiful stretch of the river.” But he won’t do it on a Saturday in June because of the crowds. He, Peterson and Watkins all encourage visitors to consider spreading out and trying less trafficked stretches. Hemmed-In Hollow Falls, with its spectacular 200-foot waterfall — the tallest between the Appalachians and the Rockies — is deservingly the most popular hiking destination in the park. Less heralded is the Railroad Trail in Gilbert, a moderate hike on an old railbed that follows the river, Branstetter offered. The 37-mile Buffalo River Trail is one of Arkansas’s premier backpacking paths, but often when you take it in small bites, you won’t see another soul for miles, Branstetter said.  

    Noland and the Buffalo River Foundation work to help prevent the outside world from creeping into the park. As a nonprofit land trust, the foundation primarily works with landowners to create conservation easements, interests in land that govern use and development, and very occasionally purchase property near the river. The foundation is a cooperative conservation organization. “We can’t make anyone do anything,” Noland said. “There’s a history of distrust stemming from the way the park was formed. We’re careful not to contribute to that. We want to work with people who want to work with us.”

    One of the Buffalo River Foundation’s primary objectives is to conserve what Noland calls “the scenic integrity” of the river. “Fifty years ago, there were hardly any structures visible from the river aside from visible sites like Buffalo Point or Tyler Bend. In recent years, people who probably love the river have found places along the river to build. You see it at Rush. You see it at Love-Hensley near Snowball.” The foundation aims to establish easements on as much property near the river to prevent development that undercuts the sense of wilderness the Buffalo River is known for.   

    To get involved in efforts to conserve the Buffalo, donate to the Buffalo River Foundation ( or the Buffalo Watershed Alliance ( and join the Ozark Society, which has seven local chapters, and sponsors regular hikes and float trips (, and publishes essential outdoors books, including Ken Smith’s “The Buffalo River Country” and “Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Arkansas.”  

  • 07 Mar 2022 4:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    AY Magazine

    Arkansas Backstories: Lost Valley

    By Joe David Rice

    Newton County can claim more than its fair share of Arkansas’ iconic natural features — places such as Hemmed-In Hollow, Big Bluff, Indian Creek, Richland Falls, Whitaker Point and, of course, the Buffalo National River. To that impressive list can be added Lost Valley, a rough-and-tumble canyon southwest of Ponca formed over the eons by the erosive actions of Clark Creek, a minor tributary of the Buffalo. Named after Abraham Clark, one of the original pioneers who settled in the area during the 1830s or 1840s, this intermittent stream plunges some 1,200 feet in the 3-mile stretch from its source to its confluence with the river.


    It was one of Clark’s descendants who guided a trio of government surveyors up the creek in 1898 to an enormous rock shelter. Deep in its dry interior, they noticed bushel upon bushel of tiny corn cobs left centuries earlier by Native Americans. Dubbed Cob Cave, the picturesque landform became known among the locals and provided an attractive setting for occasional Sunday afternoon picnics.


    In 1931, a University of Arkansas expedition led by archeologist Samuel C. Dellinger bushwhacked to the cave, seeking Indian artifacts. Spending roughly three weeks digging through the dust, leaves and gravel in the deepest section of the shelter, Dellinger and his team uncovered, in addition to the ubiquitous cobs, an assortment of gourds, sunflower seeds and woven baskets — all of which had been preserved due to the site’s extremely dry conditions — but they failed to find the expected burials. Dellinger’s collections, made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, are still used today by researchers examining food and fiber practices of Native Americans.


    Things remained fairly quiet along Clark Creek until the spring of 1945 when a resourceful state publicist by the name of Avantus Green brought Willard Culver, a staff photographer from National Geographic magazine, to Newton County. Green, who’d been given the task of presenting Culver with interesting subject material, had heard rumors of the cave and decided he’d take his guest to the remote location. Not only did they come upon Cob Cave after an arduous hike, they found a series of waterfalls beyond the rock shelter and also another cavern with an underground cascade. While the magazine opted not to use any of Culver’s photographs taken that day, Green was smitten with its spectacular beauty, naming it The Lost Valley.


    Green’s releases about the isolated gorge caught the attention of Margaret Maunder, a feature writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Flying to Little Rock in April 1946, she was met by Green and Harold Foxhall, the Arkansas state geologist, who drove her to Harrison and then to the valley of Clark Creek the next morning. In its Sunday, June 2, 1946, edition, the newspaper ran a full-page article (with six photographs) describing Maunder’s adventure, beginning: 


    Oddly enough, in a country combed by the wandering footpaths of 140,000,000 people there still exist spots of rugged yet ethereal beauty, virtually unknown to present-day Americans.


    One of these is the newly-discovered Lost Valley in the verdant, rocky wilderness of northwestern Arkansas, scarcely more than 325miles from the heart of St. Louis. Here, as recently as one year ago, mighty waterfalls cascaded over cliff-like palisades as tall as 40-storybuildings and pounded on ancient slabs of pure marble many feet below all without their thundering roar touching the eardrums or their sun-glistening beauty catching the eye of modern man.


    Although Ms. Maunder’s piece took a few liberties with the truth, stating that Lost Valley had been unknown until the previous year and that mummies had been found in Cob Cave, it certainly generated additional interest in the narrow canyon. Meanwhile, Avantus Green continued to extol the beauties of The Lost Valley — a name which over time was shortened to Lost Valley.


    Then, in the early 1950s, students from the University of Arkansas began making the 67-mile trek from Fayetteville to explore this special place they kept hearing about. One of them was Kenneth L. Smith, who in the summer of 1958 wrote two lengthy pieces on Lost Valley for the Sunday Magazine published by the Arkansas Gazette. Smith devoted much of his adult life to conservation of the Buffalo River watershed, to include writing The Buffalo River Country, a classic first published by the Ozark Society in 1967.


    A 1960 timber sale yielded a bulldozed logging road and a stand of hardwood stumps within sight of Cob Cave, galvanizing public support for protection of the property. In late 1966, just weeks before he left office, Gov. Orval Faubus announced a 200-acre purchase establishing Lost Valley State Park. Imagine the public’s surprise when a front-page story in the Arkansas Gazette the following July revealed that Cob Cave, the waterfalls, and the towering bluffs weren’t included in the original acquisition, but instead were within an adjacent 80-acre tract owned by the former governor. Faubus, who’d quietly bought the land 60 days after leaving office, sold the property to Mr. and Mrs. Albert Heyden of Little Rock for $6,500 (allegedly only $100 more than he paid for it) — and they, in turn, generously donated it to the state. In 1973, this park, along with Buffalo River State Park far downstream were given to the National Park Service for inclusion in the Buffalo National River.


    Today, Lost Valley remains a popular destination with an easy-to-moderate trail leading to Cob Cave and the nearby falls. The round-trip hike of a little over 2 miles is jam-packed with fascinating photo ops: caves, springs, waterfalls, bluffs, a rock shelter and a natural bridge. When Ms. Maunder described Lost Valley as being “one of the most scenically beautiful spots between the two oceans,” she wasn’t exaggerating.  


    Joe David Rice, former tourism director of Arkansas Parks and Tourism, has written Arkansas Backstories, a delightful book of short stories from A through Z that introduces readers to the state’s lesser-known aspects. Rice’s goal is to help readers acknowledge that Arkansas is a unique and fascinating combination of land and people – one to be proud of and one certainly worth sharing. 


    Each month, AY will share one of the 165 distinctive essays. We hope these stories will give you a new appreciation for this geographically compact but delightfully complex place we call home. These Arkansas Backstories columns appear courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System. The essays have been collected and published by Butler Center Books in a two-volume set, both of which are now available to purchase at Amazon and the University of Arkansas Press.


  • 05 Mar 2022 10:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Preserving our treasure

    by Mike Masterson | March 5, 2022 

    There's been a lot of history published this week about the 50th anniversary of our Buffalo National River, the nation's first so-designated stream.

    That's as it should be, especially considering how challenging it was to achieve that distinct honor in 1972 when my late uncle, John Paul Hammerschmidt, was instrumental in preserving this magnificent river that flowed through his 3rd District.

    In the year before his passing, John Paul told me he considered that act among his proudest accomplishments in Congress. The vast majority reading I believe would agree.

    But becoming America's first national river wasn't sufficient to prevent a Cargill-sponsored large-scale hog factory from quietly gaining state a permit from the then-Department of Environmental Quality under former Gov. Mike Beebe's administration--unbeknownst even to Beebe.

    When serious concerns over huge amounts of toxic hog waste being regularly spread along and near the karst-lined banks and watershed of a major Buffalo tributary 7 miles from the river's confluence emerged, Beebe called the agency's approval the biggest regret of his administration.

    I chose to become involved in writing consistently for two years about the potential pollution problems not with the factory itself, but with its inappropriate location.

    Thankfully, the state under Gov. Asa Hutchinson's direction eventually chose to make the factory's owners financially whole by buying them out and closing the operation.

    My determined concerns for the river were rooted in a childhood spent wading and fishing the river only 30 minutes from my hometown of Harrison and because it was the right thing to do for the sake of all who love and enjoy such a magnificent natural treasure that couldn't speak for itself.

    The Newton County family who legally established the factory had done nothing amiss and deserved to be fairly reimbursed by our state for the difficulties and public perceptions they had to endure. The fault for all of it rested squarely on the shoulders of a few state agency numbskulls who chose to issue the permit.

  • 02 Mar 2022 3:03 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    OPINION | REX NELSON: Protecting a river

    by Rex Nelson | Today at 3:48 a.m.

    Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo River becoming the country's first national river. President Richard Nixon signed the law on March 1, 1972, that put the river under the protection of the National Park Service. Over time, that designation changed the way people thought about Arkansas. It also changed the way we thought of ourselves.

    This 50th anniversary month is a good time to read Brian Thompson's new book "Save the Buffalo River ... Again." The book, whose proceeds are donated to Arkansas conservation initiatives, teaches us that the fight to protect our state's natural attributes never ends. It's the story of how an industrial hog operation was quietly permitted and constructed in the Buffalo River watershed. And it's the story of how a small group of Arkansans came together to change history.
    "Ignored and disparaged, they lost every step of the way," Thompson says. "Until they won."
    Fayetteville's Thompson has long been involved with the Ozark Society, which led the fight 50 years ago to achieve the national designation and prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from placing a dam on the Buffalo. His love of Arkansas comes through in every chapter of this book.
    "My father would load our canvas tent in the back of our teal blue Chrysler with the chrome grill and fins that reached past the trunk," he writes. "It was a boat. We would take our summer vacations on the road with the windows rolled down as we didn't have air conditioning. I would sit in back on the floor (less windy) and read comic books. Our destination? America's national parks, as many as we could fit into two weeks. It was fantastic.
    "So when the Buffalo National River in my home state of Arkansas was suddenly under threat from a large industrial hog operation, permitted in a seemingly secretive deal unknown to the general public, it got my attention. Why would anyone do that? This story is about that fight. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are controversial, and though I've been critical of the CAFO in this story, this isn't about that. It's a story about advocacy for a special place and some surprisingly nasty Arkansas politics."
    The permit for the C&H hog farm on Big Creek was issued in 2012. Conservationists began to learn of it the following year. The battle raged until 2019 when C&H took a $6.2 million buyout from the state.
    "Big Creek is lined with pastures, many of which would receive the liquid animal waste in the C&H nutrient management plan," Thompson writes. "These fields are often flooded in the spring. Flooding was not mentioned. Above all, you would certainly think the environmental assessment would have pointed out that Big Creek was a major tributary of the Buffalo National River, the pristine crown jewel of the state of Arkansas. Well, no. Neither the Buffalo National River nor Big Creek were mentioned."
    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance was formed to fight the hog farm. The organization remains active.
    "We communicate regularly," Thompson says. "We now have a broad network of contacts. We thoroughly understand permitting, rule-making and adjudication. We know how to talk to folks at the Capitol and how to reach out to the public on short notice. These days, the public isn't hearing much from us, but we're here, paying attention. We're certainly a darned sight savvier. In fact, Arkansas environmental organizations are in the best shape they've been in in decades."
    Thompson says the global food corporation Cargill hoped to follow C&H with additional hog operations in the Buffalo River area as well as the Kings River watershed.
    "Their desire was to improve their footprint in regard to biosecurity, a direct response to deadly pig virus outbreaks," he writes. "I should point out that the Buffalo isn't just any river. We had a huge amount of public support, not only at the state level but nationally as well. ... You might be under the impression that the support we received was partisan. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    "Having spent countless hours communicating with Arkansans on social media, my experience was that support was evenly distributed. Our state's natural wonders are valued by everyone."
    Thompson says those from outside Arkansas are surprised at how beautiful the state is.
    "It's diverse," he writes. "Just north of the Louisiana border, you have the thick piney woods of the Gulf Coastal Plain. To the east, you have the rich black dirt of the Delta, still with remnants of the Big Woods. The Ouachita region stretches from Oklahoma to Little Rock. ... Just north of that, meandering to the east, is the Arkansas River.
    "Last but not least, you have the Ozark Plateau, a broad uplift in the north where the millennia have carved out low mountains, which are actually an ancient, sensitive eroded landscape of really large hills covered with hardwoods. We who live here tend to take this beauty for granted. Oh, we know it's special. We've been told that many times. But when you live on it, work on it, when it's all you really see day in and day out, you sometimes forget just how special it is."
    He describes the Ozarks as "a difficult place to carve out a living. The rocky soils do not lend themselves to row cropping. The people come from a hardscrabble lot. It's a legacy of hunting, gardening, raising livestock and getting by any way you can. Folks are resourceful."
    Thompson has a final warning for Arkansans: "At some point, they will try again. My hope is that the publication of this account might make that more difficult."

    Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at
  • 02 Mar 2022 3:02 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    OPINION | BRENDA BLAGG: Outdoors lovers celebrate five decades of national reverence, relevance for Buffalo River

    Nature lovers mark Buffalo’s 50 years as national river by Brenda Blagg | Today at 1:00 a.m.

    To view the National Park Service’s information on the Buffalo National River’s 50th anniversary, visit

    It has been 50 years now since some determined Arkansas people, led by conservationists and outdoors enthusiasts, saved the Buffalo River for the rest of us.

    In the 1960s, plans emerged to build two hydroelectric dams on the Buffalo. People who populated the valley and others who traveled there from near and far to enjoy its scenic beauty and recreational opportunities closed ranks against those who argued the dams were needed for economic growth, flood control and power generation.

    It was a long fight but, on March 1, 1972, the free-flowing river with its towering limestone bluffs won designation as the United States' first "national river." The protected status stopped the dams and preserved the river for future generations.

    It remains one of the few undammed rivers in the lower 48 states and has been a unit of the national park system for all these years.

    A yearlong celebration began over the last weekend, marking the designation that was intended to preserve the river and conserve and interpret the features of this treasured waterway that cuts through the Ozark Mountain wilderness.

    It ought to be celebrated and the people who fought for the designation -- and to stop the dams -- should be remembered.

    They range from descendants of those who lived their lives in the Ozark wilderness to generations of outdoor enthusiasts who explored the river's path as well as politicians from the state and elsewhere who heard their pleas to save the Buffalo.

    Dr. Neil Compton, a Bentonville physician, spearheaded much of the effort, attracting support even from a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice of the time, William O. Douglas, who saw a photograph of the bluffs above the river and came to float the river with Compton.

    "You cannot let this river die," Douglas said then, calling the river a "national treasure worth fighting to the death to preserve."

    Among those celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo National River are its most recent defenders, who waged a second fight to save the Buffalo in recent years.

    This time, the war was with a hog farm permitted in 2013 during former Gov. Mike Beebe's administration.

    Regulators then granted a permit for a large-scale concentrated swine feeding operation at Mount Judea in Newton County.

    Beebe later said he regretted the state approved the permit that allowed the farm to have 2,500 sows and up to 4,000 piglets at the site, which was adjacent to Big Creek. The creek flows into the Buffalo just 6.6 miles away.

    Additionally, the permit, its opponents contended, was issued without adequate public notice. It was a done deal before they got to raise their objections. Not even the National Park Service got the chance to weigh in before the state regulators approved the permit.

    What followed was a period of intense scrutiny of the hog farm operation, its impact on Big Creek and the Buffalo River watershed and strong opposition to any extension of the hog farm permit.

    Eventually, after years of litigation, the state of Arkansas, with some private financial assistance, moved to buy out the farm.

    Credit Gov. Asa Hutchinson for striking the $6.2 million deal that left the farmers whole but also provided a way out of the controversy.

    "The state should never have granted that permit for a large-scale hog farm operation in the Buffalo River watershed," Hutchinson said then.

    What began in the Beebe administration and was settled by Hutchinson's was an expensive lesson for this state and its regulators.

    It was also further evidence of just how much the Buffalo National River and its watershed really are treasured by the generations in Arkansas and elsewhere.

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

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