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Arkansas’ Cache River National Wildlife Refuge

In 1971, shortly after the passage of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Army Corps of Engineers proposed draining and channelizing Arkansas’ Cache River flood basin. The dredging would have had adverse effects on the vast tracts of wetland that support several species of wildlife, including the endangered Ivory-billed woodpecker (then thought to be extinct).

Public outcry was tremendous. Tens of thousands of comments from concerned citizens were submitted during the environmental review process, but the Corps of Engineers continued to push forward with the project. Environmentalists challenged the adequacy of the Corps’ environmental analysis in court, pointing out that the Corps had failed to evaluate any alternatives that would have mitigated damage to wetland habitats in its massive channeling program. The court ordered all work halted on the project until the Corps of Engineers considered a series of viable project alternatives. The court order, combined with sustained public pressure, forced the Corps of Engineers to abandon the project. 

Arkansas’ Cache River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was subsequently established in 1986 to protect significant wetland habitats and provide feeding and resting areas for migrating waterfowl. Encompassing some 72,000 acres, the refuge straddles in Jackson, Woodruff, Monroe and Prairie counties in east central Arkansas. Today, the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge remains one of the few remaining areas in the Lower Mississippi River Valley not drastically altered by channelization and drainage projects carried out by the US Army Corps of Engineers throughout the first half of the 20th century.

In 2006, the endangered Ivory-billed woodpecker – thought to be extinct – was spotted in the Cache National Wildlife Refuge for the first time in over 60 years. The large, showy bird disappeared in the 1950s following sustained logging of bottomland forests in the southeast.

 

[1] Environmental Defense Fund v. Froehlke, 473 F.2d 346 (8th Cir. 1972). Available at: https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/473/346/225984 

[2] “Environmental Impact Statement: Cache River Basin Project.” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. November 1973. Available at:
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=ien.35556031256225;view=1up;seq=1

[3] “Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Discovered on Cache River Refuge.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. April 28, 2005. Available at: https://www.fws.gov/ivorybill/pdf/IvoryBilledWoodpecker-QAs.pdf

[4] “Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Rediscovered in Arkansas.” National Public Radio. April 28, 2005. Available at: https://www.npr.org/2005/04/28/4622633/ivory-billed-woodpecker-rediscovered-in-arkansas

 

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