Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CVII): Locals resist federal land management decision

The Newton County Times issue from Sept. 5, 2012, indicates that the Newton County Wildlife Association, best described as a local non-profit, has field an administrative appeal against the U.S. Forest Service plan to expand elk grazing on forest service land. The expansion, known as Bear Cat Hollow Phase II, would involve the clearing of land "primarily to feed a growing population of Western elk" which were re-introduced into the county about three decades ago. Read more about that here.

Bear Cat Hollow Phase I, which faced a similar challenge in 2007, is near completion. That means that some areas of Ozark National Forest in the Richland Creek area have been logged and bulldozed for "large wildlife openings" to help feed the elk.

The planning for both projects began in 2000 based on a request from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Initially both phases were to affect nearly 16,000 acres, but the project has since grown to cover 38,000 acres of the National Forest.

Opponents of the expansions complain of a lack of public involvement int he decision to expand the elk habitat, and they said that this violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act. They also complain about the lack of environmental impact assessments regarding the introduction of the elk into Ozark National Forest. Both the Newton County and Search County Quorum Courts have passed resolutions opposing the expansion.

In another matter reflecting federal-local tensions, work has begun to clear gravel and brush from the Little Buffalo River in Jasper, both above and below the Highway 7 bridge. Residents of Jasper have grown increasingly concerned about the build up of gravel and brush where the river passes through town because of the heightened possibility of flood damage from these obstructions of the stream channel. The onset of this work comes after an effort by county and city officials to get federal approval to do it. The story states that "governmental legislation" put an end to the long-time practice of "local people taking it on themselves to keep the river channel clear."

In particular, the story notes, "more agencies staked a claim to the stream" over the years, which complicated the county and city's ability to get the work done. As a result, local officials contacted the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, the Arkansas Dept. of Environmental Quality, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers about the desire to clean up the channel. Ultimately, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers granted permission for the clean up in late August, so long as the material being cleared goes "directly from bucket to truck." Other means of clearance, such as "pushing up material in piles prior to removing it (temporary stockpiling), pushing unwanted material (oversize, etc) against stream banks or elsewhere in the channel, pushing up berms to separate the removal area from the flowing stream, and constructing access roads in the streambed" would require a permit, the Army Corp of Engineers told the county officials.

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