Our fight to keep the University of Arkansas Pine Tree Experimental Station WDA publicly accessible can be almost perfectly captured in the words of an 11 year old boy, who has known this place his whole life as somewhere he can go to hunt, fish, hike and learn about the natural world.
According to the University of Arkansas’s Division of Agriculture, the property was obtained in 1960 from the U.S. Forest Service for the purpose of conducting agricultural research. Named after the small farming community of Pine Tree located in St. Francis County, Arkansas, the 11,850 acre station is the largest in the U of A’s agricultural research facilities and was initially managed for pasture, livestock production, forestry, and row crop production. In 1982 the station research emphasis had moved to solely row crop production and is a main research facility for soybean, rice, corn, grain sorghum, and wheat projects. Pine Tree has been available for public hunting and fishing access for decades in partnership with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. This is one of the state’s more coveted deer permit draws. When the L’Anguille River experiences its annual flooding, this area becomes a magnet for migrating ducks.
When he heard that the University wanted to sell a large chunk—the best part, in fact—for the princely sum of $17 million, and that the property would then be locked up behind gates to be used only by a wealthy few members of a duck club, our budding outdoorsman asked his mom the following question:
“Can somebody take away this rich person’s money, so he’ll know what it’s like to be poor and then he won’t try to take away our hunting and fishing land? This is the only place some of us have to go hunting, because we can’t pay a lot of money to be in some club.”
Arkansans are blessed, as a whole, to have over 3 million acres of public land on which to recreate no matter their level of income. If you live close enough to the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, or the Ouachita National Forest, or perhaps the White River or Cache River National Wildlife Refuges, you may indeed feel like a wealthy person every time you’re able to visit them. But for many people, the local Wildlife Management Area is all they have, and it may only be a few thousand acres.
Across the Arkansas Delta Region, where agriculture and duck hunting dominate the landscape, public access to places to hunt and fish is disappearing at an alarming rate. Many rural Arkansans depend on places just like Pine Tree to have a place to go that is “theirs”, and whenever one of them disappears, the opportunity to engage the next generation of sportsmen and women disappears with it.
That is why Arkansas BHA has stepped up to fight the sale of this land to a private entity. In the deed that records the sale of this property from the US Forest Service to the University of Arkansas, the parties agreed that the “land shall be used for public purposes, and if at any time said land ceases to be so used, the estate conveyed shall immediately revert to and become revested” to the Forest Service.
So how could a contract for sale even be valid? As the saying goes, “It will take an act of Congress.” If Congress agrees to the sale, then it can happen, and that’s what the parties were trying to get done, quietly, before news of the sale came to light.
Most of the land on the chopping block is south of AR Highway 306. The land is currently not held in agricultural research production and has been open to public recreation. This stretch of the research station is prime habitat for wintering waterfowl, whitetail, quail, rabbit, turkey, and a host of other game and non-game species. If the sale were to proceed this would strip away a large portion of the remaining vestiges of public land in Northeast Arkansas, and an important economic driver for St. Francis County.
In a part of the country where every public parcel matters so much; where 6000 acres is hardly anything for some people, but an entire world to a young outdoorsman; where access to ducks and deer and fish and turkeys can disappear behind a locked gate with the stroke of a pen on a check, we must stand and fight for every piece of public ground available, the same as we fight for vast stretches of Wilderness in Alaska or the expansive coastal waters that surround our nation.
Please join Arkansas BHA in standing up for Pine Tree Experimental Station WDA. Let’s prove to an 11 year old boy that you don’t have to have money to have access to the best places on earth.