The Seed and the Story: Controversy and the Forest (A Review of For the Trees Part 2)

Pine post yard of the H. C. Ormond Supply Company, near Clinton, Arkansas: Much of the raw material for these posts comes from pine thinnings in the Ozark National Forest. Photo No. 505690, Daniel O. Todd, 1963.

The Seed and the Story is a weekly column exploring oral history, community life, traditions, sustainability in the Yell County area.  The column is published in the Post Dispatch and is syndicated in the Courier. Please remember to support your local paper and independent media!The Seed and the Story column is just of many features you can find on the Boiled Down Juice. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoy our posts, please tell a friend. And thanks for reading.

Last week’s column discussed the historic photography found in the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service’s 1981 publication, For the Trees: An Illustrated History of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests 1908-1978.  Authored by Sharon M.W. Bass, this book provides an overview of the creation of the forests and the public reaction to their continued development over the years.  Last week I wrote about the photography of forest service workers Ralph Huey and J.M. Wait and their efforts to document life in rural areas both before and during the forest’s early days.

What’s perhaps most interesting about the book’s documentation of the Forest Service’s later years is the discussion of two large controversies readers will likely recall.  The first centered around the Forest Service’s hog removal program of the mid 1960s.  Hogs had long been a stable in the Ozarker’s livelihood and cultural life, and until the creation of the forest they grazed wild throughout the region.  In 1920 the Forest Service began issuing grazing permits, but many residents ignored them, preferring instead to operate as they always had, allowing their hogs, and even cattle, to run free.  With more people moving into the Ozarks and the increased desire for public lands and hunting grounds, the Forest Service concluded it could no longer allow unrestricted grazing. In 1966 the Service began trapping trespassing hogs causing much animosity toward the organization and hampering one of the main sources of income for many residents. For many Ozarkers, this solidified deep feelings of distrust regarding any government regulation of the land.

Another controversy dominated the 1970s, this time stemming from some of the recent migrants to the mountains.  Residents in Newton County discovered that the Forest Service was using an aerial spray of toxic herbicides to both increase timber production and monetary gain.  On June 9, 1975 the Newton County Wildlife Association filed a civil action suit for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against the use of herbicides, forms of toxic chemicals that kill weeds yet also increase rates of cancer, pollute groundwater, and harm aquatic life.  The Association succeeded in their fight, and by 1978 when the Forest Service issued their timber management plan it no longer contained the use of aerial herbicide or any herbicide containing the dangerous dioxin TCDD.  The Newton County Wildlife Association continues to battle the use of dangerous herbicides today, currently fighting against the use of these chemicals by the Carol County Electric Co-op and attempting to protect the region’s wells, springs, and the Buffalo River from contamination.  The Association is the topic of the recent film, The Natural State of America, which follows their fight against toxic herbicides from the days of the Forest Service to the current struggle.

What do you remember about the creation, controversy, and growth of the Ozark National Forest in the area? Do you recall the hog removal program of the late 1960s? What about the use of herbicide in the 1970s? Or perhaps you are engaged in the work of the Newton County Wildlife Association today.  I’d love to hear your story.

Below you watch the trailer for the Natural State of America.  Click here to visit Forest History. Org and see the full copy of the book For the Trees online.  Thanks so much for reading!

The Natural State of America Trailer from Natural State Documentary on Vimeo.