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The Buffalo National River Named One of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®

The America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is one of the best-known and longest-lived annual reports in the environmental movement. Each year since 1984, grassroots river conservationists have teamed up with American Rivers to use the report to save their local rivers, consistently scoring policy successes that benefit these rivers and the communities through which they flow.

The Buffalo River is one of the longest undammed rivers west of the Mississippi. It was designated as the nation’s first National River by Congress in 1972 to preserve its clean water and other outstanding values. But today, a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation feeding 80,000 hogs per year generates waste equivalent to a city of 30,000 people along a Buffalo River tributary. Despite public outcry, millions of gallons of hog waste are sprayed on fields and stored in manure ponds, threatening the river’s clean water. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality must deny the project’s permit for continued operation in order to safeguard this national treasure for today’s communities and future generations.

Winding its way through the forested Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas, the 153-mile long Buffalo National River flows through soaring bluffs, deep pools and gravel bars that lure millions of visitors annually from all over the world. People come to camp, paddle, hike river trails, and enjoy the vistas, clean air and sparkling waters of the Buffalo National River. In 2015, more than 1.46 million tourists visited the Buffalo National River generating $62 million and employing more than 960 people from tourism related activities (e.g., cabins and hotels, restaurants, kayak/canoe rental).

The upper reach, flowing from the headwaters through the Upper Buffalo Wilderness to the boundary of Ozark National Forest, is protected as a Wild and Scenic River. From the national forest boundary to its confluence with the White River, the Buffalo is designated as a National River and managed as a unit of the National Park Service. The Park Service’s mandate is to, “preserve, conserve, and interpret a clear, clean, free-flowing river and its Ozark Mountain setting of deep valleys, towering bluffs, wilderness and pastoral landscapes.”

The Buffalo River supports more than 300 species of fish and wildlife including beaver, elk, black bear, smallmouth bass and catfish. The federally-endangered gray bat, Indiana bat and Northern long-eared bat are found in the karst cave networks surrounding the river.
The Threat Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are one of the largest contributors of pollutants to streams and waterways across the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2013, a 6,500-head hog CAFO was quietly permitted and constructed by C&H Hog Farms, Inc., unbeknownst to the public. The hog CAFO, including massive indoor feedlots and two manure filled ponds, sits on a hill along one of Buffalo National River’s main tributaries, Big Creek, less than six miles from the mainstem of the river.

Despite rising national protests and evidence of high E. coli levels and low dissolved oxygen on Big Creek and the Buffalo National River, the CAFO is seeking to change from a federal permit to a state permit that would allow it to continue to operate in perpetuity. In 2017, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality will consider the issuance of a Regulation 5 permit for this CAFO. The Buffalo National River flows in Arkansas, but it belongs to every citizen of our country. Continued support from a well informed and concerned citizenry will be necessary to stop this permitting change and ensure the river’s protection for future generations.

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the- ground projects, and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 250,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. For more information or for a copy of the full report, contact AmericanRivers.org.
Photos courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism [flickr], Algae on the Buffalo National River, Carol Bitting and Karst limestone on the Buffalo National River, Angela Peace

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