Essential Paddling Guide: Can Hogs Be Farmed Safely Upstream Of Buffalo National River?

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What threat does a commercial hog farm pose to the Buffalo National River? State of Arkansas photo.

Often the health of our rivers, lakes, and streams in the National Park System is endangered by something we don’t immediately see. Such is the case in Arkansas, where a hog farm less than 6 miles upstream from the Buffalo National River poses an industrial threat to the river.

The Buffalo River travels through the heart of the Ozark Mountains in northwestern Arkansas, and runs beneath magnificent cliffs which at times extend nearly 700 feet above the river’s clear, quiet pools and rushing rapids. One hundred thirty-five miles of the Buffalo comprise the country’s very first national river, which attracts more than one million visitors each year who float the crystal waters, camp on the gravel bars, and hike the trails – generating $38 million toward the local economy.

Now, a hog farm you can’t even see from the Buffalo might not sound like much of a threat. But when you realize this farm could have as many as 6,500 pigs generating an estimated 2 million gallons of manure a year, and that the manure would be spread on fields atop the region’s porous karst geology, well, you can sense the issue. The problem lies largely in that karst foundation. This type of geology is composed of easily dissolved rocks, such as limestone and dolomite. Via sinkholes and underground caves in the geology, groundwater can flow miles very quickly.

The National Parks Conservation Association’s Southeast Region has been working closely with local river advocates on a campaign (and lawsuit) to both prevent damage from the C&H Hog Farms operation and to see restrictions established concerning future operations in the watershed. While the hog farm is up and running, you can help work to minimize its impacts on the Buffalo River by asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, and Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe to implement better protections for the national river’s watershed.

Elsewhere in the Southeast, NPCA staff has been working in support of a petition filed by the State of Tennessee to protect more than 500 miles of ridge lines in the headwaters of the Big South Fork River that flows through the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area from mountaintop removal coal mining.

Coal mining, along with being visually unappealing, can generate siltation and other runoff that pollutes rivers and kills stream life. Such an impact on the park would be felt particularly by those who visit to challenge themselves on the Big South Fork’s rapids.

“This would have a huge impact on the water in the park,” says Don Barger, who heads NPCA’s Southeast Region.

Hogs and coal mining are just two of the more obvious threats to our parks’ waters in the Southeast Region, which spans Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Much work also needs to be done to prevent landscapes from being lost to development.

“Supporting land acquisition (through the Land and Water Conservation Fund) for critical parcels at the Obed Wild and Scenic River (and many others) is a perennial issue, especially in the East where development is rapidly impinging on the wild experience,” points out Mr. Barger.