Log in

Guest Column: Don’t let them Buffalo the Buffalo!


Last week almost 1,200 people showed up at Jasper because they are concerned about reported changes threatening the Buffalo National River.
The meeting drew stakeholders from all sides, such as landowners and farmers, mom and pop outfitters and businesses that cater to tourists, environmentalists and of course, some government officials. Unfortunately, the people who are behind the proposed changes declined to show up. That’s interesting because they’re the same people who would profit the most if the federal government changes the protective status of the river.
Most of them were alerted to the threat a few weeks ago, when the Madison County Record published an article based on information from courthouse records and interviews. I was one of the local people interviewed.
The news article outlined large land purchases in rural areas near the Buffalo River. It included the results of a poll commissioned by the Runway Group of Bentonville. Among the investors in the Runway Group are the Waltons, and their stated goal is to change the official designation of the Buffalo River from a National River to a National Park and Preserve, a change that would require passage of federal legislation.
The group has hired a lobbyist, but he also declined to attend the hearing at Jasper to answer questions.
While fair-minded should be willing listen to proposed changes, that has been impossible because the proposals were developed in secret and kept private from federal and state officials.
Far-reaching changes that would affect most of the property owners and businesses along the river should be discussed openly. They should have begun at the local level and never should have been held in secret, behind closed doors.
If you’re planning to impact my home or my business, why are you hiding your intentions?
Another issue is poll commissioned by the Runway Group. It supposedly indicates that 64 percent of the people surveyed support the changes in the status of the river. However, closer examination of the questions and methodology easily prove that it was a push poll.
That means it was a poll with loaded questions designed to produce predetermined results. In other words, it did not indicate what people actually believe, it draws the conclusions that the Runway Group want it to draw.
The poll had a predominant number of respondents from Baxter County. The problem is that only a small percentage of citizens in Baxter County live within the actual Buffalo River watershed, which is the heart of the river.
Also, only seven percent of the respondents lived Newton County. It is extremely deceptive to produce such a poll and then promote it as if it represented people’s true feelings.
Also misleading and alarming are the actions of state officials. I say that because of their lack of transparency, their decision-making in secret, their refusal to answer questions and their avoiding accountability about their involvement.
This whole issue needs further investigation and accountability. The process should be open and above board.
The Buffalo National River is a treasure. A few wealthy individuals have ignored and disrespected the people of Newton and Searcy counties, the true caretakers and true guardians of this national treasure.
Any discussion affecting the future of the river must have the involvement of local citizens first and foremost. To keep them in the dark is highly suspicious. I hope everyone who has enjoyed the river will listen to the local farmers, land owners, tourist businesses and preservation groups. Do not be Buffaloed by a few rich people and their lobbyists.