Re­store refuge

Let land re­turn to nat­u­ral state

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - MIKKI WHITE SPE­CIAL TO THE DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE Mikki White is a mem­ber of Friends of the Cache River Na­tional Wildlife Refuge.

Ire­cently at­tended the “Rollin’ on the River Fes­ti­val” at Claren­don. Much of the visit was spent at the Claren­don Wel­come Center view­ing the his­toric Dayton Bow­ers pho­to­graphic ex­hibit and vis­it­ing with sev­eral mem­bers of the town very knowl­edge­able in the lo­cal his­tory. I found we have much in com­mon in our de­sire to pre­serve the things we value.

Many things have changed dur­ing our life­times around Claren­don. Claren­don Beach was once a boon to the lo­cal econ­omy. Dur­ing the sum­mer, hundreds of peo­ple vis­ited daily. The sands of this beach were sugar white, the wa­ter of the river was clean, green­ish-blue and warm. Huge al­li­ga­tor gar, fierce-look­ing but harm­less, were often seen. They are rarely seen now be­cause they can­not tol­er­ate the colder wa­ter tem­per­a­tures caused by dams built on the up­per White River.

Much of Claren­don’s econ­omy de­pended on the river. Hunt­ing, com­mer­cial fishing, mus­sels, but­ton pro­duc­tion, and log­ging were ma­jor con­trib­u­tors to the econ­omy. Tim­ber com­pa­nies owned much of the sur­round­ing bot­tom­lands and log­ging was a ma­jor source of in­come and jobs. Through the years, as crop prices rose, de­mand for farm ground in­creased, and land once cov­ered with beau­ti­ful hard­wood trees was cleared and con­verted to farm ground. Much of this land was in low-ly­ing flood plain ar­eas.

I re­mem­ber see­ing bull­doz­ers and ex­ca­va­tors pil­ing up­rooted stumps of cut tim­ber and see­ing the smoke from th­ese piles burn­ing in the bot­toms. While this cleared land pro­duced prof­its at times, fre­quent flood­ing from the rivers made farm­ing risky and crops were often lost to the ris­ing wa­ters of the Cache and White rivers. The ef­fect of tim­ber clear­ing and crops planted right up to the river banks con­trib­uted greatly to in­creased ero­sion and silt runoff, and the wa­ters of the river changed from nearly clear to muddy brown. To help re­duce flood­ing, chan­nel­iza­tion of the Cache River be­gan in the early 1970s, and so the degra­da­tion of what na­ture took eons to cre­ate con­tin­ued.

As the world changed around us, we be­gan to re­al­ize the im­por­tance of restor­ing the nat­u­ral habi­tats that re­mained and the sig­nif­i­cance of pro­tect­ing it for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The Cache River Na­tional Wildlife Refuge was es­tab­lished in 1986 for the pur­pose of pro­tect­ing th­ese valu­able lands and wa­ters and their wildlife. The mis­sion of “Friends of Cache River Na­tional Wildlife Refuge” is to sup­port this con­ser­va­tion ef­fort and to pro­mote the ben­e­fits the refuge pro­vides to

On the refuge, the bat­tle to re­turn the land to its nat­u­ral state con­tin­ues. In the years since the Cache River Na­tional Wildlife Refuge’s for­ma­tion, over 20,000 acres of flood-prone crop­land on this one refuge alone have been re­for­ested.

We have an op­por­tu­nity at this time to con­tinue restora­tion of th­ese lands by re­mov­ing the old, un­nat­u­ral struc­tures that are dis­rupt­ing the ecosys­tem and restor­ing the flood­plain for­est to its pre­vi­ous con­di­tion. This land, once re­stored, will ben­e­fit Claren­don for gen­er­a­tions to come at no cost or fi­nan­cial risk to the city for its care and main­te­nance, and will be open for all who wish to make use of it.

Along with be­ing ad­vo­cates for the refuge, we are also ad­vo­cates for the growth and pros­per­ity of Claren­don. Where we dif­fer with other or­ga­ni­za­tions is their be­lief that the old bridge and miles of dirt berm and con­crete struc­tures on refuge land will be more ben­e­fi­cial to Claren­don than restor­ing the land to its pre­vi­ous con­di­tion. There is ev­ery pos­si­bil­ity that should th­ese struc­tures re­main, they will be­come more of a fi­nan­cial and le­gal li­a­bil­ity to Claren­don than a fu­ture ben­e­fit.

Any­one who wants to visit Cache River Na­tional Wildlife Refuge can come and en­joy the beauty of re­stored for­est land, thrill to the sounds of mi­gra­tory birds, catch fish in an oxbow lake, hunt wa­ter­fowl as they re­turn to their win­ter­ing grounds, pad­dle on the streams, set trot­lines in the river or hunt for that tro­phy buck. It is our hope that the legacy for Claren­don will be the ti­tle of “Gate­way City” to the Cache River and White River Na­tional Wildlife Refuges rather than the “city with the old bridge.”

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