Earth Week film describes area residents' battle against herbicide use

Release Date: 4/17/2012

The state slogan for Arkansas is "The Natural State" and if you travel around the state, it's easy to see why. Arkansas has a beautiful and diverse topography, from the Boston Mountains in the north, to the Ouachita Mountains in the south, to the waterways of the Mississippi Delta region. But what would you do if you thought that the "nature" in the natural state was at risk?

The Natural State of America

"The Natural State of America," a documentary film written by Dr. Brian Campbell, will be shown on the Ozarks campus as part of the 2012 Earth Week celebrations.

The Natural State of America is a documentary film that describes the actions taken by the people in one part of the state when they felt the natural environment and their way of life was being threatened. Written by Dr. Brian Campbell, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UCA, and directed by Terrell Case, Timothy Lucas Wistrand, and Matthew Corey Gattin, the film tells the story of concerned citizens, environmental groups, and organic farmers who filed suit to stop Carroll County Electric Cooperative (CCEC) from using herbicides for right-of-way vegetation control.

Carroll County Electric is the largest electric cooperative in the state of Arkansas, with a service area that extends several miles into southwest Missouri and includes all or portions of Benton, Carroll, Madison, Newton, and Pope Counties in northwest Arkansas. The cooperative has nearly 9,000 miles of distribution line and 300 miles of transmission line.

For safety reasons and to avoid service interruptions, the right-of-way under these lines has to stay clear. To address this need, CCEC developed a "Vegetation Management Program," which describes the different methods the cooperative will use to control trees and underbrush under the power lines. When the plan was made public, the provisions for broadcast application, foliar application, and basal spot application of herbicide raised concerns many of the people who lived in the area, including members of the Newton County Wildlife Association.

NCWA was formed in the 1970's to in response to U.S. Forest Service plans for aerial application of the herbicides 2,4D and 2,4,5T (Agent Orange) in the Ozark National Forest. The group successfully halted the Forest Service aerial spraying plan, and in 2010 they joined forces with local activists fight the planned use of herbicides by CCEC.

In the film, residents describe the concerns they have with CCEC's herbicide application plan and its potential for devastating and long-lasting damage to the natural environment. They contend that the plan is fatally flawed because the chemical residues from these herbicides don't stay right where they're sprayed. With each rainfall, they wash into the creeks, ponds, springs, and wells. They seep into the groundwater. The effects of multiple combinations of these compounds - even at low levels - are not well understood, and the evidence suggests that the total combined toxicity of the different herbicides may actually exceed that of any single chemical present.

Dr. Kim Van Scoy, Ozarks Associate Professor of Science Education and Environmental Studies, worked with Patrick Morgan, who oversees the university's Mindfulness Series, and Ginny Sain, director of the university's Walton Arts & Ideas Series to bring the film to campus. She believes the film tells an important and timely story. "I lived in Newton County," she said, "We had a farm there, so this subject is near and dear to my heart." Van Scoy said that the film's writers and directors will be on hand to lead a panel discussion after the film screening. Several residents featured in the film are also expected to attend the screening to talk about their role in the legal battle. Members of the Carroll County Electric Cooperative have also been invited to attend to share their viewpoint and respond to questions about the film.

The Natural State of America will be shown on Tuesday, April 17 at 7 p.m. in the Rogers Conference Center. The film screening is free and open to the public.