Legislators Reject Hutchinson's Plan for Buffalo, Disregard Ecological Issue

Only 11% of the Buffalo River’s watershed is protected by the National Park Service, leaving it vulnerable to nearby agricultural development. Recent legislative pushback has stamped out months of conservationist cooperation between concerned citizens and policymakers.

Last Friday, months of conservationist cooperation between concerned citizens and policymakers were stamped out by the Arkansas legislative council.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) arranged the buyout of the C&H Hog Farms in June for $6.2 million.

C&H houses more than 6,500 hogs, and has called the Buffalo River Watershed home since 2013. As one of the many industrial livestock producers in the area, C&H provides a significant benefit to the local economy.

The issue is that the farm has remained operational under expired permits by the state. High levels of pollution and algae growth have been found in the Buffalo River since the farm began operation, contaminating over 70 miles of its pristine waters. Conservationists and long-time beneficiaries of the river have been putting their heads together to put a stop to the problem.

Since C&H has operated in the Buffalo Watershed, Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, has been the primary advocator for the evacuation of the farm.

Today, his efforts have gained serious momentum. However, although the arranged buyout was a huge victory for conservationists around the state, it was in no way the final step in restoring the river to its original state. The project still needed significant funding in order to begin work. Unfortunately, legislators are still repressing efforts in doing so.

Hutchison pledged to match a weighty $1 million in promised funds by other private or non-profit organizations to go to the preservation and conservation of the Buffalo River. Hutchison headed this pledge by creating the Buffalo River Conservation Committee in order to decide how the grant money would be spent. With this came significant pushback by higher legislation claiming that Hutchison overstepped his bounds by not consulting the representatives of the Watershed before taking action. Because of this, the governor’s $1 million grant was denied by the legislative council just last Friday.

Although there is validity to the claims against Gov. Hutchison, his actions in no way warrant such an extreme response.

Sen. Missy Irvin (R) mentioned that the manner in which Hutchison carried out his plan was “incredibly disrespectful” to the people most affected by the pollution. 

The governor should have consulted the long-time Buffalo River conservationists in his arrangement, but to put the entire operation on hold because of a matter of who will be represented defeats the entire purpose of the conservation movement. The need for conservation action is now. If this factor were to be put aside, the transfer of funds could be initiated and efforts to restore the river could break ground.

With only 11% of the river’s watershed being protected by the National Park Service, the water source is rendered vulnerable to forces of agricultural development in the area. With its 800,000 yearly visitors, this invaluable landmark should be protected in its entirety.

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