Most people have seen the grandeur and beauty of the Buffalo River. Much of the year it has way too many people, but there are times during mid-week in the off season when you can float it and think you are seeing it in a time before white men came here, if you can overlook an occasional trash bag on a gravel bar. Perhaps the water in the Buffalo is as clean as any water anywhere in the Ozarks, but you can bet the upper reaches of the river will be polluted significantly in a few years. On mountaintops above the river near Mount Judea, Arkansas, thousands and thousands of hogs will be raised at one time. Why there instead of Illinois or Ohio? Cheap land!
It is an unstoppable venture apparently, because the owners, who couldn't care one whit about the Buffalo, got all the necessary permits from the Arkansas agency responsible for controlling pollution in the state, which has been laughingly referred to as the Arkansas Pollution Permission Commission. It was all done under something of a cloak of secrecy, keeping the Parks Department, the Game and Fish Department, and the National Park Service from knowing anything about it until it was completely done and all permits required were in place.
Of course, the land is cheap in that Ozark area and that's why the chicken industry and hog industry have settled there like the vultures many of them are. To so many, only money is important in this lifetime, and they figure on not needing it in heaven, when they can get away from the ugliness they created here. The word is that all the hog waste will be spread on local pastures and be a big benefit to cattle farmers. There will be dams pushed up to hold the liquid coming off the operation, and there will be no problems with that system overflowing in heavy rains to put hog manure in the river. Dead hogs will be no problem either, as they were in western Missouri, when a few years ago a company was fined a million dollars or so for just dumping carcasses in a creek. That fine was no big deal to them, when you raise millions of dollars with huge hog farms, you can pay it and forget it, and keep on operating as you have been.
You can bet everything you have that hog waste, and decaying dead hogs will be a part of the future of the Buffalo, but the thousands of floaters who come to see it can probably swim in it and not know much about it until you get to where you can smell it. The sorry thing about all this is, nothing can be done to stop it because the law has been followed with the obtaining of proper permits.
Arkansas is a good place to do that kind of thing, as Don Tyson found out decades ago when he wanted to set up huge chicken houses on ridge-tops above the War-Eagle, Kings and Illinois Rivers in Northwest Arkansas. He was a close buddy of then governor Bill Clinton, and everything was easy for him. When wells in the Alpena, Green Forest and Huntsville area became so polluted from the chicken plants that the water was dangerous to drink, Tyson just offered to give the country folks with bad wells some money to buy water with. To most of those people, who never had much in their entire life, the money was enough to stop all the complaining.
In the early 1980's, Steve Filapek, a biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission did a testing and sampling of the waters of the War-Eagle River. There was a section of the river he was not allowed to test or sample because a very wealthy large-scale landowner who was one of Tyson and Clinton's good friends, had hog and chicken operations which were badly polluting that section of the stream. Large numbers of cattle were causing erosion of the bank, and muck covered the gravel over a large area. Filapek said it was an area where pollution was so bad that fish numbers were being affected, so he had to avoid it according to orders from his superiors. At the time, I couldn¹t even mention it in my column, just to protect his job.
But it wasn't hard to see, and I wrote often of my own observations. I lived in north Arkansas at the time and had fished the War Eagle and Kings hard, since 1973, when the fishing was so good it was like we were the first float fishermen to find it. The Kings was full of smallmouth and rock bass, and the War-Eagle had those fish and a heavy concentration of Kentucky, or spotted bass, as well. By the mid to late 1980¹s the fishing had become very poor, and the water itself showed the pollution from those chicken processing plants.
I knew some very poor people from Batavia, Arkansas who obtained jobs there at a Green Forest chicken processing plant, and they said the work, gutting chickens all day long, and wading in guts and blood in knee high boots they had to wear, made you come home about half sick. Tyson had a hard time keeping local workers because he paid so poorly, but he had the answer; he brought in hundreds and hundreds of workers from Mexico who would work even cheaper.
When Tyson died a couple of years ago, his obituary carried accounts of large purchases of land in Europe and Mexico over the years. He had grown tremendously rich by polluting northwest Arkansas, and taking advantage of the poor, and their desperate need of work. Not long ago I floated the James River in southern Missouri, and passed a ridge top where several long chicken houses perched on a nearby ridge top. More than a hundred black vultures, which are suppose to migrate south in the dead of winter, were circling and landing beside one of them, likely feeding on dead chickens. Maybe it is legal to dump so many dead chickens, I don't know, but how likely is it that the river is unaffected by those dead carcasses? What a boon to the buzzards, now they do not have to migrate. Soon, there will be large numbers of black vultures feasting on dead hogs above the Buffalo River, Arkansas' greatest natural treasure.
When I graduated from college, I went to work at the age of 21 for the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock as their outdoor editor. The first article I wrote was a report on a meeting of the Arkansas Pollution Control Commission. I looked like some kid, sitting there with my pen and pad in the back row, so I was ignored as I listened to them discussing what to do about a rancher who had killed thousands of fish in a south Arkansas creek by dumping poison was left over from some operation. One of the commissioners said that he knew the fellow personally and he was a great guy, and wouldn't stand still for some ridiculous fine levied against him. I quoted him in the article, which also explained that the Pollution Control Commission had decided to just warn him not to do it again.
When the article came out, that fellow was in the Editor's office demanding that I be fired. I wasn't. One of their best writers, a fellow by the name of Bob Lancaster, came by and told me that I had just shed the only light ever known of, on the "Pollution Permission Commission". Well, the PPC, operating with a new name after all these years, has struck again. They do a lot of good for a few people, like that ownership looking for cheap land in Arkansas for a hog farm. And, come to think of it, Don Tyson, and thousands of immigrant workers from Mexico, could have never done without them.
My website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com You can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, mo. 65613 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org