The distinction was announced by Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes, who was joined by Senator Mark Pryor, Congressman Tim Griffin, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Terrence "Rock" Salt, Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture Ann Mills, as well as state, local, and conservation leaders at a ceremony in Little Rock.
Deputy Secretary Hayes said that the collaboration taking place in the White River watershed is a model of successful river conservation for the 21st century.
"The National Blueway designation recognizes that strong, diverse partnerships are the best way to address the modern-day threats to our nation's most important rivers, and the White River is an outstanding example of that approach," said Hayes. "The river is the recreational and economic lifeblood of communities from the Ozarks to the Mississippi. River users and river lovers of all stripes have banded together to protect the White River watershed and maintain this magnificent resource for the region - and for the nation."
"The designation of the White River watershed as a National Blueway demonstrates the Obama Administration's continued commitment to the protection of public and working lands that are crucial to the growth and revitalization of rural America," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "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."
In May 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar established the National Blueways System, a new designation for rivers and watersheds of national significance designed to promote and conserve the economic, recreational, and natural values of healthy river systems from source to outlet and across watersheds. The initiative is part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative to establish a community-driven conservation and recreation agenda for the 21st century. The designation does not establish a new protective status or regulation, but rather is intended to recognize and support existing local and regional conservation, recreation, and restoration efforts by coordinating ongoing federal, state, and local activities.
Flowing for over 700 miles from its headwaters in the Ozarks to its mouth at the Mississippi River, the White River drains a watershed spanning 17.8 million acres across 60 counties in Arkansas and Missouri. It is home to 1.2 million people who rely on the economic impact that recreation, tourism, agriculture, and commerce along the river provide to watershed communities. The White River is an important part of the wildlife-related economies of Arkansas and Missouri, which statewide accounted for $1.8 billion and $2.8 billion in 2011, respectively. 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 White River National Blueway was nominated for this designation by 26 diverse stakeholder groups including the National Wildlife Refuge Association, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, The Conservation Fund, Audubon, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, the cities of Augusta and Clarendon, local businesses, and federal partners from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture.
"We know through experience that by aligning federal, state and local agencies along with nonprofit and private interests, we can together accomplish great things for the people and wildlife of Arkansas and Missouri," said National Wildlife Refuge Association President David Houghton.
In support of the new White River National Blueway, senior leaders from partnering federal agencies announced new projects that will enhance the river's natural resources and create economic opportunities for the region.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that in FY 2013, working with the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts to establish priorities, it will commit more than $22 million to soil and water conservation in counties located within the White River Watershed through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Approximately $13 million of those funds will be directed to pasture land to provide soil and water conservation needs that arose from the drought in 2012. Additionally, the USDA Forest Service manages more than 1 million acres of federal forest land within the boundary of the Blueway, and is engaging in dozens of projects aimed at improving habitat within the watershed.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently approved a 101,110-acre expansion to the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge--named for one of the White River's main tributaries--that will protect valuable floodplain habitat through conservation easements and acquisitions from willing landowners.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to build on the great conservation work by our state, federal, conservation, and sportsmen partners," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. "Today's recognition formalizes something all of us already know--that the White River watershed is special. We are committed to passing on to future generations the chance to hike, paddle, hunt, fish, and otherwise enjoy this exceptional watershed."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that they are moving forward with the Lower Cache River Basin Restoration Project, which will restore flows to meanders cut off by flood control work and will increase fish and wildlife habitat.
"In keeping with President Obama's commitment to the America's Great Outdoors initiative, the Corps is proud to be a part of the National Blueways initiative, which recognizes and supports stakeholder partnerships," said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy. "The Corps' Lower Cache River Basin Restoration project is part of this effort."
For maps and photographs of the White River, click here.
Photo courtesy: (ArkansasStateParks.com - Bull Shoals-White River State Park where the White River and Bull Shoals Lake meet at Bull Shoals Dam).