The waters flow through Arkansas as blood flows through our veins, and as such we are intrinsically tied to the water. They feed our crops, cut through the mountain valleys, and breathe life into the soul of Arkansas. Whether ducks, deer, or any number of game, hunting in Arkansas is a way of life. Public lands in Arkansas are the great equalizer. A place where a millionaire and a poor man can share a cup of coffee, a tree, and a conversation. They’re a place where all the gadgets money can buy can’t replace the knowledge gained by hard work and patience.
Arkansas has arguably the strongest public land hunting heritage in the South. The loss of any public land in the state is a loss to the foundation stones of our identity. Arkansas is not without its flaws, and our history is far from pretty. But every person who calls this state home, regardless of color or creed, has the natural right to these lands. We pay for them in our sales, property, and income taxes. The state Constitution of Arkansas grants the right to hunt, fish, and recreate outdoors to every Arkansan. This right is only valid if every Arkansan has access to the land to recreate on. Any attempt to sell public land in Arkansas without the say of the people, disenfranchises all Arkansans. This disenfranchisement hinders the most vulnerable of our community. It hurts the single mother who can’t afford for her sons to hunt on private leases, the retiree who has spent decades looking forward to mornings in the woods free from the burdens of work, and the local residents who rely on the spending from people who chase the opportunity to be found on the adjacent lands.
The sale of 6,300 acres of the University of Arkansas Pine Tree Research Station requires nothing less than Congressional approval. The University of Arkansas took over the land management to study agricultural, wildlife, and environmental concerns in 1960. The land was deeded to the University in 1978, but under the conditions that it remain in the public purview indefinitely. Removing it from public use automatically meant the land would revert to the US Forest Service.
So why has the sale of this land been kept so quiet, away from the public’s eye? In a Frequently Asked Questions post on the Division of Agriculture’s Research and Extension page, the University points to extensive efforts to market the property as early as the Fall of 2019, but users of the land only became aware of the sale after one public land hunter failed to draw what is normally an automatic permit at Pine Tree. It has been rumored that surrounding landowners had no idea the property was for sale but would have jumped at the opportunity had they known.
Possibly the decision makers knew the uproar that a sale would cause amongst the public land hunters who rely upon Pine Tree for all manner of hunting from small game to deer to waterfowl. Undoubtedly, in current times the Division of Agriculture has faced a serious loss of revenue and funds. However, this is a public entity and if they are struggling to raise the funds necessary to fulfill their obligations, we the public should be informed. The disposal of Pine Tree WDA was not made known to the general public until a contract of sale had already been drawn. The University of Arkansas in this moment has failed to live up to its contract with the people of Arkansas, from whence its existence and authority derives.
Arkansas BHA respects the University’s need to sell the property to fund its obligations. We believe suitable alternatives can be found to allow the University to sell the land while also keeping it publicly accessible. Numerous examples of groups like the Nature Conservancy, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission collaborating to enhance public access can be found around the state. We call on the University to engage in good faith with these agencies and our state lawmakers to identify a win-win situation for both Arkansas public land owners and the University.
Before this land was deeded to the University of Arkansas it was under the ownership of the United States Forest Service, which is to say that this land belonged to every American, not only to Arkansans. This sale illustrates the importance of protecting not only the land, but our heritage in the Natural State. Pine Tree WDA is one of the last remaining vestiges of public land in Northeast Arkansas. Its loss will constitute a wound to the soul of our state. Please stand with Arkansas Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and untold numbers of Arkansans, to fight against the sale of Pine Tree Research Station.