Those who have visited – or, even better, floated down – northwest Arkansas’ pristine Buffalo River know why it is rightfully described as an American treasure. If you haven’t joined the 1 million that make use of the park annually, do yourself a huge favor and head to Newton County. It’s truly an incredible, almost magical place.
With family and friends, I have spent some of the best hours of my life on the Buffalo, which was designated the nation’s first “national river” in 1972. The designation was well-deserved. Outside Ponca, Arkansas’ only elk herd can be heard bugling as it moves through the morning mist blanketing riverside meadows. Rental cabins – rustic or tricked out – are plentiful, as are hiking trails, small-mouth bass, and friendly folks.
I could justifiably praise the Buffalo for pages.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a plug for the river and area tourism. It’s actually a story about a large, modern hog farm – set to provide weaned piglets to Cargill from two new barns – that’s opening about 6 miles from the Buffalo, close to a tributary of the river. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) says the farm, which plans to spread generated manure on adjacent hayfields, is fully vetted and properly permitted.
Since being alerted to the operation a few months ago, environmentalists and river enthusiasts have been protesting the hog farm, scrutinizing the permitting process and threatening lawsuits.
In early May – citing among other concerns a fear for endangered species in the Buffalo watershed, a porous geology vulnerable to the farm’s waste and inadequate notice of the operation’s approval – a coalition of conservation groups sent the USDA a notice of intent to sue because the Farm Service Agency approved a loan guarantee for the hog farm.
“This factory farm will produce massive quantities of waste just 6 miles from the Buffalo River, and that waste will be spread on land that is right next to one of the Buffalo’s major tributaries,” said Emily Jones with the National Parks Conservation Association in a coalition press release. “We are talking about one of the most beautiful areas in the country. To think that our government would allow this hog factory in the watershed without examining its impacts is unconscionable.”
A related slideshow available here.
Having already outlined my love of the Buffalo, I have followed the developing story with torn allegiances. It would be an absolute tragedy for the river to be fouled.
And, without a doubt, the hog farmer feels the same. Anyone saying the farmer is worthy of outpouring of contempt he’s faced is being foolish. The gentleman doesn’t want to pollute anything but simply wants honest employment – something hard to come by in the area, by the way – and for his family to thrive.
What about his rights? Where do individual property rights end and those of the collective citizenry begin?