Land Use Issues and Controversies

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Entries - Entry Category: Land Use Issues and Controversies

Big Lake Wars

Competition and contention over an abundant (and unregulated) storehouse of northeastern Arkansas wildlife from the mid-1870s until 1915 led to violence and controversy known as the Big Lake Wars. Big Lake refers to a section of western Mississippi County created by the massive New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811–1812. “War” may be a misleading description of the events because there were no formalities, declarations, truces, or settlements. However, the conflict had a lasting impact on the state and even on the nation. The Big Lake Wars pitted local residents, who were mostly poor, against affluent northerners, chiefly from St. Louis, Missouri. Early Arkansas maps labeled the sparsely populated area between Crowley’s Ridge and the Mississippi River as “the Great Swamp.” After …

Camp Halsey

Camp Halsey was a Soil Conservation Service camp established in 1934 a few miles to the east of Greenbrier in the northeastern corner of Faulkner County. It later became a forestry camp before closing in 1939. In the twenty-first century, the site is archaeological site 3FA313. The location is about one mile east of Woolly Hollow State Park. The small community of Centerville (Faulkner County) is located about one mile to the west of the camp location. In response to expansive droughts in the early twentieth century, the U.S. government established “demonstration projects” tied to programs of soil conservation within watersheds. The Cadron Creek Demonstration Project was one of the first of these in Arkansas, although it was not affiliated …

Crossett Experimental Forest (CEF)

Established in 1934, the Crossett Experimental Forest (CEF) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service was one of the first experimental forests in the southern United States. It has provided decades of scientific research on topics ranging from forest ecology and silviculture to wildlife, hydrology, and soils in the loblolly and shortleaf pine-dominated forests of the Upper West Gulf Coastal Plain geographic province. The scores of studies conducted on the CEF have generated hundreds of scientific publications, making the station an internationally known example of high-quality long-term forestry research. Long-term research studies and demonstration projects also serve as in-the-woods educational opportunities regarding low-cost forestry practices, and tens of thousands of students, professionals, and others have visited the …

Deforestation

Deforestation is the conversion of timbered lands into one or more non-forest uses. A classical example of deforestation in Arkansas is the clearing of the forests of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain to plant fields of rice, cotton, soybeans, corn, wheat, and other crops. According to this technical definition, the logging of forests (even the clearcutting of native, natural-origin forests and their subsequent replacement with pine plantations) is not deforestation since the land is still in some kind of forested state. In most cases, deforestation is a human-mediated process. The two primary reasons behind deforestation—agricultural conversion and urbanization—are not new to Arkansas. Native Americans cleared forests to build their communities and sow crops at least as early as the Late Archaic …

Experimental Forests

Experimental forests are timbered lands that have been established primarily for scientific research and demonstration projects in which forest conditions are manipulated. In effect, experimental forests are long-term “laboratories” for testing environmental responses to silvicultural treatments, including thinning, tree regeneration, final harvesting, site preparation, herbicide and fertilizer applications, and other actions. In addition to controlled and replicated research trials, most experimental forests have areas dedicated to the “demonstration” of forestry techniques on an operational scale. As of 2009, four experimental forests in Arkansas are operated by the Southern Research Station of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USFS): the 4,281-acre Alum Creek Experimental Forest near Jessieville (Garland County), the 1,675-acre Crossett Experimental Forest south of Crossett (Ashley County), the …

Levees and Drainage Districts

Reclaiming the swamp and overflow lands in the Mississippi River Delta required draining those lands and building levees to mitigate the inevitable floods that periodically occurred. Without drainage, the land was useless for farming. Early residents realized that once the land was cleared of the timber and drained, the rich alluvial soil would be productive for a variety of crops, especially cotton. Initially, early settlers had attempted to build makeshift barriers to halt the powerful flood waters, but these attempts were ultimately useless. Although the line of levees along the Mississippi River expanded during the nineteenth century, the water always found a weak spot and inundated the region. In 1879, Congress created the Mississippi River Commission to establish a unified flood …

Levi Wilcoxon Demonstration Forest

The Levi Wilcoxon Demonstration Forest (LWDF) is located about three miles south of Hamburg (Ashley County) along U.S. Highway 425. Currently owned by Plum Creek Timber Company, the LWDF is a remnant of the old-growth pine forest that once covered much of southern Arkansas. The LWDF is notable for the dimensions of the loblolly and shortleaf pines still found within its boundaries—most of the pines in this roughly ninety-acre stand are between 100 and 200 years old and over 100 feet tall. For example, the “Morris Pine” is a loblolly fifty-six inches in diameter, 117 feet tall, and estimated to be at least 300 years old. The national champion shortleaf is also found in the LWDF and measures thirty-six inches …

Military Land Grants

aka: Military Bounty Warrants
The system of granting free land in the public domain to men who served the United States during military conflicts—or, in the case of their death, to their heirs—was implemented in 1788. Following the Revolutionary War, this system of issuing military bounty warrants served as a way for the cash-poor United States to use large tracts of land to meet its obligations to soldiers. Warrants for Revolutionary War service were issued under acts of 1788, 1803, and 1806. The first series of warrants for the War of 1812 were issued under acts of 1811, 1812, and 1814. Some of the land set aside for these warrants was located in what would become Arkansas. Before any warrants could be issued, the …

Snag Boats

As American settlers pushed westward following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, their goals of settlement, civilization, and trade were hindered by the hazardous nature of the western rivers. The pioneers found the Mississippi River and its tributaries, such as the Arkansas and Red rivers, filled with obstacles and debris. Snag boats, tasked with the removal of sunken trees and the clearing of the rivers, were one of the first answers to the growing loss of life and property. The navigability of the rivers became a priority to settlers, who believed the future prosperity of the Lower Mississippi Valley and the western frontier, including Arkansas, was acutely tied to the safety of river trade. As western river trade became more important …

Soil Conservation

Around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, the first human inhabitants of what was to become the state of Arkansas could be characterized as scattered, small bands of hunter/gatherers who had little impact on the soil and water resources. Soil erosion that occurred was primarily due to natural events associated with dramatic post-glacial weather patterns. Human cultivation of Arkansas soils began around 3,000 years ago during the late Archaic Period when small patches of mostly squash, gourds, sunflowers, beans, and, later, corn were cultivated. Early crop cultivation did not appear to harm the soil and water resources due to the small size of the gardens and the relatively low density of human inhabitants in the region. As human population increased, so …

Soils

Arkansas has a diversity of rich soils that developed in a favorable environment for growing plants. The soils of Arkansas are the foundation of the number-one industry in the state—agriculture. Arkansas soils are natural, dynamic bodies of broken-down and weathered mineral and organic matter, in some places altered by human activity, capable of growing plants. Soils are unique and exist as a creation of five soil-forming factors: parent material, climate, topography, organisms, and time. Soil parent material is the geological source of the mineral component, defined as particles less than two millimeters in diameter. Arkansas soils developed from residium, loess, alluvium, and old marine sediment parent materials. Residium is weathered rock, and Arkansas’s residium is mostly soil derived from sandstone, …

Spanish Land Grants

Arkansas inherited a complex legacy of land grants from its time as part of Spanish Louisiana. Beginning in 1769, royal governor Alejandro O’Reilly established regulations concerning the size of permissible concessions and the conditions by which applicants could perfect titles to their land. Subsequent governors upheld and expanded similar regulations, but in practice, most grants made during Spanish rule were approved upon request only by the commandant of the nearest settlement. Formal surveys of the grants were rarely made, which further frustrated attempts to determine rightful ownership of granted land once Spanish Louisiana became part of the United States. O’Reilly’s regulations prescribed a three-year probationary period during which claimants were expected to clear the frontage of their land, build ditches …

Superfund Sites

In 1980, Congress passed, and President Jimmy Carter signed, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund law. CERCLA was created to deal with abandoned sites of industrial pollution. The act imposed taxes and fines upon companies to recover clean-up costs, and also established containment procedures for the pollution at such sites. This followed several years of highly publicized incidents related to industrial pollution, such as the 1974 contamination of Times Beach, Missouri—which was later evacuated due to high levels of dioxin in the city’s soil and water—as well as the eventual relocation of residents from the notorious Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York, which was the site of a chemical dump …

Swamp Land Act of 1850

The Swamp Land Act of 1850 gave Arkansas the right to identify and sell millions of acres of overflowed and swamp lands in the public domain and to use the proceeds to finance internal improvements, principally levees and drainage ditches. Arkansas eventually acquired more than 8,600,000 acres of land through the Swamp Land Act. This grant of land was of enormous importance to the state at the time, but it had little permanent impact on the economic development of the state. In the 1830s, planters and land developers began to move into Arkansas, attracted by the rich Mississippi Alluvial Plain bottomlands. The alluvial lands, however, were subject to seasonal overflows. In addition, much of the bottomland was swampland, described by …

White Flight

“White flight”—the departure of white residents from racially mixed cities to heavily white suburban enclaves in reaction to court-ordered school desegregation—occurred in several urban communities in Arkansas. Related changes occurred in other communities in the state during the same period, especially in the Arkansas Delta. There, many white families moved children into private, all-white “academies” as desegregation was implemented. In addition, many families—both white and black—chose to depart such communities entirely, although it seems clear that those demographic changes were caused more by a sense of economic hopelessness than school politics. While towns such as Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) evidenced “white flight” in the aftermath of court orders in the latter decades of the twentieth century, it was in the …