CONSERVATION HEROES – New Role for Arkansas Lawyer As River Activist – environmental protection efforts of David Carruth on behalf of White River

CONSERVATION HEROES – New Role for Arkansas Lawyer As River Activist – environmental protection efforts of David Carruth on behalf of White River – Brief Article

David Carruth first fell in love with Arkansas’ White River as a child when his father and grandfather took him hunting in the bottomlands and taught him to revere the river and the ecosystem it supports.

Decades later, Carruth has emerged as a crusader, trying to rescue the river from a hodgepodge of ill-conceived projects and to devise a strategy for its long-term protection.

A self-described “small-town, one-horse lawyer” in Clarendon, Arkansas, Carruth traces his epiphany to a 1999 visit by representatives from NWF and other national conservation groups who had come to town to alert residents about the government’s plans for tinkering with the White River. When Carruth heard how massive irrigation and navigation projects would destroy wetlands and pollute the White River National Wildlife Refuge, his reaction was immediate: “Not on my river!”

“I knew I couldn’t fight this bear on my own,” he recalls. “I’m not that politically savvy, so I had to network with people who are.” He sought advice from staff in NWF’s Gulf States office, became an NWF member and in short order began working with the Arkansas Wildlife Federation (AWF), one of NWF’s affiliates, and the fledgling White River Conservancy. AWF rewarded his efforts by naming him Conservationist of the Year for 2000 and electing him to its board.

“David puts his dollars, his sweat and his time where his heart is,” says Terry Horton, executive director of AWF. “He has rallied local governments and Chambers of Commerce to oppose these White River projects and has helped conservation groups achieve their goals.”

The hard work paid off last year when the Clinton administration, in its 2001 budget, cut all construction funding and greatly reduced funding for further study of the navigation project that would have dredged and diked 245 miles of the White River through the heart of two wildlife refuges. And largely because of Carruth’s vigilance and mobilization of local activists, three separate bills that would have appropriated money for the state’s share of the project were derailed in the legislature.

Carruth knows the battle is far from over. “Army Corps of Engineers projects don’t really die,” he says. “They just go into hibernation, waiting for a more favorable climate.”

For the long term, Carruth is pressing for a comprehensive federal- state study of the river to guide future development. “We need to understand the river in its natural state as a base for assessing the impact of navigation, irrigation, ferry service, trout docks and what have you,” he says. “At present, the situation with the river is like a symphony without a conductor.”

COPYRIGHT 2001 National Wildlife Federation

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group