U.S. Water News Online
TULSA, Okla. -- Farmers fear the possibility of growing
restrictions on private land along more than 1,000 miles of
southwestern rivers newly declared a critical habitat for an
Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moved to further
protect the habitat of the Arkansas River shiner in portions of the
Arkansas, Cimarron, and North and South Canadian rivers.
Most of the protected land is in Oklahoma, although the affected
streams flow through portions of Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas.
Proposed regulations were published in the Federal Register and
take affect early this month. Federal permit applications for road
and bridge construction, channel work, flood control and other
activities in the affected areas would be reviewed for any
detrimental consequences on the habitat.
The move could also affect federally funded programs that impact
the areas, which include sections of the rivers as well as land 300
feet on either side of the streams.
Ray Wulf, president of the Oklahoma Farmers Union, said farmers
fear potential prohibitions against using fertilizers or pesticides
on their own land.
They estimate that 97 percent of land in the zones is privately
owned and say regulations could effectively convert private land to
public property without just compensation.
``The ruling in and of itself represents a real hardship and
potential loss of income for those of us in agriculture,'' Wulf said.
Federal and conservation biologists say farmers have little to
``It won't affect private land at all unless they are getting
federal funding or permitting,'' said Ken Collins, a Fish and
Wildlife biologist in Tulsa.
Collins said needs of the habitat would be taken into
consideration before new federal programs become effective for
farmers or others.
The regulations could affect large-scale livestock feeding
operations now required to get EPA permits for discharging waste,
said Peter Galvin, a conservation biologist for the Center for
Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz.
The designation resulted from a settlement agreement in a lawsuit
brought by the center against the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The minnow was declared a protected species in 1998 because dams,
water diversions, and pumping reduced its population and range over
the years by 70 percent, Galvin said.
But he said the declaration did little to reverse the minnow's
fortunes, used as a key indicator of the overall ecological health of
the Arkansas River system, which includes the Cimarron and Canadian
The wildlife service declared that further protections of the
shiner's habitat were unwarranted, which provoked the lawsuit.
``The idea behind the critical habitat designation is for it
provide a road map for federal agencies to make sure they're not
permitting or funding operations that are making the habitat worse,''
Wulf said farmers are the traditional environmentalists and want
to protect their lands and water more than anybody.
``The farmer is not going to be putting chemicals on his land and
fertilizing more than is necessary, than what is safe for the land,''
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