Neches River
The 415-mile long Neches River borders Angelina and Houston counties. Conservationists hope to preserve the river by having it designated as a “National Wild and Scenic River.”

The Texas Forestry Association, along with the Texas Farm Bureau, announced its opposition to the proposed designation of the Neches River under the National Wild and Scenic River Act created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain rivers.

“Designation of the Neches River as wild and scenic is not in the best interest of landowners and would have devastating effects on the forest industry and surrounding communities,” Texas Forestry Association Executive Vice President Ron Hufford stated in a press release.

According to the release, the Texas Forestry Association which represents forest landowners, loggers and forest product manufacturers, and the Texas Farm Bureau which represents farmers, ranchers and rural families argues the designation would “infringe on private property rights of landowners and limit the use of the land for agricultural and forestry practices.”

But, longtime conservationist Richard Donovan, who has been working on acquiring the designation, disagrees.

“That is not going to happen,” Donovan said. “There will absolutely be no infringement of rights.”

Donovan hopes to bring in officials from the National Wild and Scenic River group to Lufkin and surrounding areas to explain what the designation is all about and hopefully dispel some of the rumors surrounding the debate.

“We want to lay this to rest,” Donovan said.

A major concern for the association is the argument of local versus federal control of the waterway.

“Once a river is designated as wild and scenic the federal government, and not state and local government, is in control of the river,” Hufford stated in the release.

But, Donovan said local governing agencies aren’t making responsible decisions to make sure the Neches River is untouched.

“Local control just unsuccessfully sued to build a dam across the river to export 80 percent of water out to other areas and diminish the flow of river,” Donovan said. “If you like that kind of local control, then I guess that’s good. If it were given a Wild and Scenic designation, then the river would remain just as it is now — unchanged.”

According to the release, the Texas Forestry Association implemented a program in 1995 to ensure the quality of water in rivers and streams are protected through voluntary Best Management Practices.

“Thousands of landowners and loggers have received information and training to effectively prevent or minimize the amount of non-point source pollution generated during forestry operations,” Hufford stated in the release. “They help protect soil and water, two key elements necessary for growing a healthy, sustainable and productive forest.”

According to the release, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tyler) stated , “designating a river as wild and scenic brings unintended consequences to the local communities, such as loss of tax revenue for local governments, schools and even economies,” but his office says he remains open minded to the idea of a study bill.

The Texas Forestry Association proposes working with private landowners to encourage land stewardship practices available through the Farm Bill and under the Forest Legacy Program easements, which “protect conservation values while allowing forest landowners in Texas to maintain the economic and recreational uses of their forests,” the release stated.

In the meantime, Donovan said he will continue to fight for the designation.

“We want to leave the river just as it is, because we believe that will make it more meaningful to people of East Texas,” he said.

Melissa Hayes’ e-mail address is mhayes@lufkindailynews.com.