Bills move forward in fight to keep Pine Tree Research Station public

Updated: Mar. 25, 2021 at 7:39 PM CDT
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ST. FRANCIS COUNTY, Ark. (KAIT) - Two bills regarding the Pine Tree Research Station sale made progress in the legislative session this week.

HB1694 and SB447 are bills working to keep the Pine Tree Research Station land public.

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture attempted to sell the land to a private entity last summer, without notifying the public. The attempted sale caused an uproar with local hunters.

HB1694 passed 88-1 in the House on Monday and now moves on to the Senate Education Committee. This bill would keep the university from selling the land to a private entity or individual, only allowing a sale to a public organization that will keep Pine Tree open for public use.

SB447 works to appropriate funds for the purchase of the land to keep it in the public domain.

While it was met with some opposition, it did pass out of the Senate Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday and moves on to the Senate floor.

Sen. Ronald Caldwell (R-Wynne) is a sponsor for both bills. He said they don’t want to keep the university from selling the land, they just want to keep it open to the public.

“This is one of the few bills-one of the few opportunities that we have where both parties can have a win-win. The university can get their money and do the projects they want to do and we can keep this land in public domain all at the same time. They just can’t sell it to a private company or a private individual,” said Caldwell.

Michael McGowen has grown up using the Pine Tree land and now brings his kids to the area.

He says he’s thankful to those fighting to keep the land public.

“A lot of stuff happens out here, not just hunting and fishing I mean, it’s home. I mean, it’s good for our economy I mean, it’s just nice to have in your backyard, like it is,” said McGowen.

Caldwell said there is a deed restriction that says the land must be kept open for public use, or the land reverts to the U.S. Forest Service.

The sale would also have to be approved by Congress as it was federal land before being deeded to the university.

In July, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) told Region 8 News he had received numerous calls about the attempted sale.

His spokesperson, Sara Robertson, sent the following statement when KAIT reached out for comment on Thursday:

“Congressman Crawford believes transparency regarding the sale of the Pine Tree Experiment Center is critical to maintain public trust and supports the preservation of current access and use of the land by the public for hunting and other outdoor activities.”

Sen. Caldwell said they hope to see the bills in next week’s session of the legislature.

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