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Lawyer Michael Avenatti arrested on a domestic violence charge. Also on the Thursday rundown: More testimony on Ohio's "anti-protest" bill; and we'll take you to the Dakotas to celebrate American Education Week.

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Bill Proposes Expansion of Arkansas Flatside Wilderness Area

Forked Mountain is a prominent feature of the Flatside Wilderness area in central Arkansas. (Wikimedia Commons)
Forked Mountain is a prominent feature of the Flatside Wilderness area in central Arkansas. (Wikimedia Commons)

April 30, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Conservationists are praising a measure designed to expand the Flatside Wilderness area of the Ouachita National Forest in Central Arkansas.

Congressman French Hill has filed legislation that would increase the 9,500-acre wilderness area by an additional 640 acres this year, and possibly more in the future.

Brett Kincaid, the executive director of Audubon Arkansas, says it's the first attempt to expand the preserve since it was created in 1984.

"It's important for hikers and fishers and birders, campers to be able to get out and enjoy an area and know that it's going to be protected," he says. "The peace of mind of knowing that we're making a step that we've not taken in years to ensure that an important area remains in protection."

The bill reflects two years of work among advocates, elected officials, The Nature Conservancy, the Arkansas Forestry Commission, and Arkansas Game and Fish. Kincaid says it would protect some of the most rugged places left in Arkansas, including black bear and wild turkey habitat, and more completely preserve additional watersheds.

Ed Bethune, a former Arkansas congressman who co-sponsored the original bill to designate the wilderness, says the area is a treasure that needs to be protected.

"It's a beautiful, beautiful area," he notes. "If you ever have a chance to be there, you would appreciate why it's important to lock up as much of the acreage as possible and protect it legislatively so that no one can tinker with it in the years to come."

Kincaid says the area's proximity to Little Rock and Hot Springs means that federal protection is needed to preserve it from development.

"The ability to square conservation with growth is always a tough question to answer," Kincaid adds. "While we understand the need for growth, we also need to understand the importance of protecting what makes Arkansas unique."

The bill would expand the wilderness area by 640 acres in 2018 and requires an evaluation of adjacent areas of the forest for future expansion. The measure has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR