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The Driver family has farmed cropland on the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge for over 60 years. Lately, they're starting to feel like they're not welcome.
After the federal government took cropland belonging to Joe Felts by eminent domain, they tore down his homeplace and built a shop and other buildings (background) on the site. Joe’s great grandson, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s father, Bob, farm the cropland in the refuge.
Jonathan and Bob Driver are starting to get the feeling they’re no longer welcome on federal land their family has farmed for four generations. But the Drivers, who farm near Turrell, Ark., are not going away easy.
The Driver family has farmed inside the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge for over a half a century under cooperative farming agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its predecessors. In recent years, however, FWS has progressively reduced the Drivers’ refuge acreage. In addition, the Drivers, along with many others who farm federal lands to benefit wildlife, have had to deal with increasing restrictions on federally-owned land leased to them for farming, including not allowing the planting of genetically-engineered crops.
The relationship soured further last fall, when the FWS presented the Drivers with a proposal to reduce land they farmed on the refuge from 500 acres to 55 acres over a two-year period. The Drivers once farmed 1,200 acres in the refuge.
When the Drivers asked why, Wapanocca refuge manager Bill Peterson told them that Canada geese were no longer a priority for the refuge and the Drivers’ contributions to wildlife would be scaled back.
The Nov. 25, 2013 USFWS announcement read, “The Service believes Wapanocca NWR would more effectively benefit migratory birds by restoring bottomland hardwood forest and grassland in the current non-impoundment farming area.”
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After a required public hearing and comment period, which the Drivers say heavily favored them continuing to farm their current acreage, the refuge acquiesced and developed another proposal which would allow the Drivers to farm 500 acres in the refuge in 2014-16, but would reduce farmed area in the refuge to 300 acres in 2017.
Peterson said the most recent alternative “would give the farmers time to start looking for additional farmland to rent.”