Bill aims to stop sale of Pine Tree Experiment Station to private entity

Updated: Feb. 6, 2021 at 2:11 PM CST
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ST. FRANCIS COUNTY, Ark. (KAIT) - Legislation will be presented next week, regarding the attempted sale of the Pine Tree Experiment Station land to a private entity.

Region 8 News first told you about the attempted sale in July 2020.

The land is owned by the University of Arkansas and maintained by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

In March, the UA System Board of Trustees approved selling the 6,300-acre property to Lobo Farms, LLC.

The public was not notified the university had plans to sell the land.

Sen. Ronald Caldwell (R-Wynne) said state representatives also did not know about the sale until it was approved.

“People are very concerned with the methodology the university used to transact this sale,” said Caldwell. “Basically, it went to one real estate agent, it went to one appraiser, it went to one buyer, and we’re very concerned about that.”

Caldwell hopes the legislation he will present will keep the land open to the public.

“We’re trying to get legislation through to buy this land from the university and in the process also furnish money for rice research,” said Caldwell.

In September 2020, Region 8 News reported that the attempted land sale sparked an FBI investigation, and the sale was delayed until this year’s legislative session.

“When the University bought this land, it says in the deed that they must leave it in public domain,” said Caldwell. “So, we think the courts might stop that. Right now, we’ve got this held up and hopefully, they will give us time to find the money to buy this from them.”

Caldwell said another thing he and state representatives hope to accomplish with the legislation is giving transparency to the public on the issue.

“The taxpayers of Arkansas have a right to know how their money is being spent and how their assets are being dispersed,” said Caldwell.

Since finding out about the sale, hundreds have spoken out against making the land private.

Tim Fisher has been hunting Pine Tree for decades.

“My father and grandfather was always told the land was bought to be public,” said Fisher.

Fisher owns County Line Irrigation and Apparel, a business that could be impacted if the land becomes private.

“If this thing goes private, our local boys won’t have places to hunt like they do now,” said Fisher. “So we’re going to lose, we’re apt to lose a lot of that business.”

Making the land private would take away one of the only public hunting areas in Northeast Arkansas.

“You’re going to have three or four people control what three or four or 500 could be hunting. And that’s not right,” said Fisher. “They were fixing to take thousands of acres from the kids and the grown people that have hunted here all their life.”

Caldwell plans to present his first bill regarding the land next week.

If it is approved, he then plans to run another bill for the funds to purchase the land.

Caldwell is hopeful the state will be able to furnish at least $5 million initially, for the University to match a grant they need for rice research.

“If we can get that $5 million in this fiscal year that would cure that problem, and then that would give us a few months to go to our private partners and collect the money,” said Caldwell. “We’ve got private concerns that have come to the table that are very interested in furnishing money.”

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is a nonprofit working alongside state leaders like Caldwell to keep Pine Tree public land.

“We’re actively engaged in work right now with a number of organizations with the purpose of forming a coalition of partners to do something like that,” said Arkansas Chapter Chair of BHA James Brandenburg.

Local hunters, representatives, and organizations have all told Region 8 News they plan to continue fighting the sale of Pine Tree to a private entity.

“Once it’s gone, if it is sold, we can never get it back. It’s not like a building or a stadium, we can’t go tear it down and build a new one,” said Caldwell. “Once it’s gone, we’ll never get it back so it’s just imperative that we save this land and keep it in public domain.”

To read the bill Caldwell will present Tuesday, click here.

BHA has created a petition to keep the land public, you can find that here, you can also learn more about the Arkansas chapter by visiting the website here.

There is also a Facebook page available to follow the latest on the sale, you can find that here.

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