On Monday, June 24, Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers wrote to you saying the Federal Blueway designation for the White River was an honor to anyone who cares about the White. Shortly thereafter, that designation was withdrawn at the request of everyone… and their dog (as we say in the Ozarks).
Due to an inadequate job of engaging local organizations, governments and citizens throughout the watershed, folks felt left out, uninformed and unsure how to respond to the designation. Friends of the Rivers was among those caught by surprise.
Provoked by citizen concerns, Quorum Courts started passing resolutions opposing the Blueway designation before there was time to even learn what this national label really meant. In our opinion, misinformation, unfounded statements and fear associated with property rights and general distaste for the federal government fed these resolutions.
On June 25, following a lengthy meeting of the White River National Blueway Partnership, these members responded to local concerns stating that they believed that the heart of any positive collaborative effort must include the local citizens and organizations. It was decided there is too much positive on-the-ground work already underway that could be undermined by the growing, though unfounded, conflict of the Blueway designation.
On June 26, at a called meeting of the Senate and House Interim committees on City, County and Local Affairs top leaders from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas Waterways Commission, along with the Nature Conservancy and Ozarks Water Watch individually provided their statements and announced the decision to request the withdrawal of the designation.
Below our are June 24th posts.
History Repeating Itself (op-ed)
White River Blueway Op-ed
Written by Debbie Doss, Conservation Chair for the Arkansas Conservation Coalition
Last year the state of Arkansas entered a contest and won! Twenty-six stakeholders, which included members of Congress, conservation districts and organizations, businesses, recreation groups, and others nominated the White River for inclusion in the National Blueway program.
On January 8th of this year the White River was designated by the Secretary of the Interior as this country’s second National Blueway. This well-deserved designation recognizes the efforts of many partners already working within the watershed for many years to utilize, conserve, and restore the White River and its tributaries.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “The resources made available through this designation will support and promote needed conservation efforts and bolster valuable economic growth and job creation in years to come.”
Recently some concerns have developed about the true purpose of the Blueway program and confusion and misinformation is spreading about what this new program is all about. Some fear that Federal forces are lining up for, at worse, a takeover of personal property and at best a program of crippling legislation that will severely limit what landowners can do on their own property. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Blueway program has no regulatory authority. It has no power over private property, land use or water rights. It is simply a recognition program. The secretarial order clearly states, “Nothing in this Order is intended to authorize or affect the use of private property. Nothing in this order is intended to be the basis for the exercise of any new regulatory authority, Nor shall this initiative or any designation pursuant to this order affect or interfere with any Federal, state local and tribal government jurisdiction or applicable law including interstate compacts relating to water or the laws of any state or tribe relating to the control, appropriation, use or distribution of water or water rights.”
However, National Blueways do receive first consideration for technical and financial assistance to stakeholders in the watershed who wish to work on natural resource conservation, outdoor recreation, and sustainable economic development.
A National Blueway is by definition, a large river with a watershed which is of vital importance to the people who live there. These are rivers of national significance that are highly valued for their recreational, economic, cultural and ecological assets. The program is federally supported but draws on local partnerships to work together. It is intended to foster communication between agencies and stakeholders in order to benefit the river and the people that live there
As part of the program for fiscal year 2013, the USDA working with the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts will establish priorities. It has promised to commit more than $22 million to soil and water conservation in counties located within the White River Watershed. Approximately $13 million of those funds will be directed to pasture land to provide soil and water conservation needs that came about from the drought in 2012. Other projects undertaken in the watershed include removal of invasive plants, re mediating chronic soil loss from erosion improving habitat for native fish and trout and stream bank stabilization.
Sixty counties in Arkansas and Missouri, depend on the economic benefits that recreation, tourism, agriculture and commerce along with river provide. In 2011 hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation in Arkansas and Missouri accounted for $4.6 billion added to their economy. Public and private landowners in the watershed have already conserved more than 3.2 million acres of their land for the benefit of people and wildlife.
The National Blueway System supports voluntary land and water conservation and management practices. It is intended to support sustainable local economies that are dependent on healthy and functional rivers for tourism, recreation, commerce, agriculture, and community pride.
Winning this prize brings positive attention to Arkansas at a time when resources are scarce and competition for funding is stiff. The National Blueway designation was created to enable all our citizens to more easily benefit from a special place where we live and work and play together.
White River National Blueway information:
What is a Blueway:
A. Getting a Blueway designation is like winning a beauty contest. You have to enter and the selection process is very competitive. Participation in the National Blueway System is entirely voluntary and led by local stakeholders who want the designation.
B. In order to win, National Blueways must be nationally and regionally significant rivers and their watersheds must be highly valued recreational, social, economic, cultural, and ecological assets for the communities that depend on them.
C. A Blueway comprises a river and its watershed from source to end where good working partnerships between the stakeholders living there have already demonstrated an ability to work together accomplishing conservation goals for the benefit of everyone in the watershed
The Blueway is designed to reward this kind of good stewardship with federal support. Here are some benefits:
- A Blueway designation attracts attention to the state, bringing more tourism and business opportunities along with more jobs. Recognition as a National Blueway will encourage local business ventures that are connected with the river system, such as outdoor recreation, education and conservation, tourism-related ventures (for example, restaurants, lodging, camp grounds, guide services), and outdoor recreational equipment supplies and rentals.
- The Blueway gives our state a better chance of getting federal grants and other funding during a time of economic difficulty. For fiscal year 2013, the USDA working with the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts will establish priorities, committing more than $22 million to soil and water conservation in counties located within the White River Watershed. Approximately $13 million of those funds will be directed to pasture land to provide soil and water conservation needs that came about from the drought in 2012.
- A Blueway reduces duplication of effort and working at cross purposes between federal and state agencies through a Memorandum of Understanding, making applications for grants and funding more efficient and coordinating work throughout the watershed.
D. The national Blueway will support the kinds of conservation and stewardship projects that are already taking place in the watershed. Here are some examples of those kinds of voluntary projects:
- Removal of invasive plants which choke out native species and clog waterways.
- Remediation of chronic soil loss from erosion which depletes farm land and impairs streams.
- Stream bank stabilization which prevents property loss and maintains healthy streams.
- Research projects that support best management practices.
- Improving habitat for native fish and trout by funding of stream restoration and supporting hatcheries.
E. The National Blueway System promotes voluntary, responsible land and water conservation and management practices. It will raise public awareness of healthy watersheds, and make possible sustainable local economies that are dependent on healthy and functional rivers for tourism, recreation, commerce, agriculture, and community pride.
What a Blueway is not:
A. A Blueway does not establish new management, protective status, or regulations.
B. No stakeholder is required to participate in any Blueway program. Participation is strictly voluntary.
C. The Blueway has no power over private property. The Secretarial order states very clearly that it has no legal impact on private property, nor is it specific to any parcel of land. The Program is entirely voluntary and private landowners choose whether or not to participate in any assistance programs or initiatives undertaken by the stakeholder partnership. The Secretarial Order that created the National Blueways System states that designation does not authorize or affect the use of private property; nor does it affect or interfere with any Federal, state, local and tribal government jurisdiction or applicable law.
D. The Blueway has no control over water rights. The Secretarial Order that created the National Blueways System states: “nor shall this initiative or any designation pursuant to this Order affect or interfere with any Federal, state, local, and tribal government jurisdiction or applicable law including interstate compacts relating to water or the laws of any state or tribe relating to the control, appropriation, use or distribution of water or water rights.”