From Rob Moritz with our content partner, the Arkansas News Bureau:

A federal proposal to designate more than 40 percent of Arkansas as a critical habitat for the protection of two fresh-water mussels is drawing criticism from state elected officials and a variety of private and public sector organizations.

Chris Villines, executive director of the Association of Arkansas Counties, said the National Blueway designation was “kids play” compared to the proposed critical habit for mussels.

Under the proposal, nearly 800 river miles in Arkansas, including sections of the Ouachita River and Saline River watersheds in southern Arkansas, the Illinois River watershed in Northwest Arkansas and the watersheds of the White River and a number of its tributaries in northern and northeastern Arkansas, would be designated as critical habitat for the Neosho mucket and Rabbitsfoot mussels.

The Neosho Mucket, an endangered species, is found in the Illinois River in Northwest Arkansas, and in rivers and streams in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. The Rabbitsfoot is a threatened species found in rivers and streams in Arkansas and 14 other states.

About one-third of Arkansas’ property owners would be affected by the designation, which would protect the two mussels under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“What that means is, you as a private property owner, if you want to do something you are placed in the position of trying to prove that whatever you are doing will not result in … harm” to the mussels, said Association of Arkansas Counties Legislative Director Jeff Sikes.

All state, county or city road or bridge projects also would have to meet expanded environmental requirements, Sikes said.

The association and 10 other organizations collectively submitted comments against the proposal to the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying the measure is overarching and could hurt the state’s economy.

Read more from Rob Moritz with the Arkansas News Bureau at this link.

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