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Get woodpeckers and spotted owls off the brain

Things are getting weird in America.

First, the plan to divert irrigation water from the White River in Arkansas is attacked by thousands of ivory-billed woodpecker lovers, who thought the plan would harm his habitat. They subsequently descended on the state to sightsee in their RVs and pontoon boats and apparently scared the bejabbers out of the little fellow because he hasn't been seen since.

By the way, I am convinced that this woodpecker is not actually reclusive. In fact, I believe there is only one ivory-billed woodpecker in the entire country, who goes by the name of Li'l Woody.

There is a $10,000 reward being offered by The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas for anyone who spots him, his nest or feeding site. If that doesn't tell you where this country's priorities are, I don't know what will.

Speaking of mixed up priorities, nothing can top recent statements made by former Arkansas state Senator Jim Scott, champion for the wise use of the Sparta aquifer, which runs from Texas through Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

Scott, who is to Mid-South agriculture what Oprah Winfrey is to the cattle industry, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “I knew if we didn't get the farmers out of the Sparta it would end our drinking water supply, the purest, finest drinking water in the world.”

Scott has a right to be concerned. Mid-South farmers do use a significant amount of water on their crops and water usage in some areas has to be curbed — and by the way, surface water diversion programs would sure help, if America could get woodpeckers, snail darters and spotted owls off its brain.

Then Scott went on to say, “It's a shame to give up a bacteria-free, constant temperature, pure-source of drinking water to let it be squandered to raise crops and to make paper.”

Squandered to raise crops? Scott apparently suffers from the same affliction as millions of Americans who believe that their food comes straight from the grocery store. I'm almost tempted to set the former senator straight, using his own warped logic. “Drinking water doesn't come from the ground, Jim! It comes out of the end of a garden hose.”

But my fear is that more people would agree than not.

The simple answer is that our crops and our nation's farmers are as vital a resource to America as water, trees and wildlife. To say that water is squandered on crops is an affront to the effort being made by farmers to preserve their land's resources while providing food, fiber and fuel for America and the world.

Mid-South farmers are increasing irrigation efficiency with tailwater recovery systems, land leveling and drip irrigation systems and are looking into tapping the enormous resource of surface water that flows over the land.

Breeders are looking into more drought-tolerant plants.

Some rice farmers are experimenting with watering rice down the row to help conserve water.

If Scott really wants to conserve water use, he should think about how much good, clean drinking water is used each day to produce sugar-laden, calorie-loaded, soft drinks. My guess is that it's millions and millions of gallons. Americans sure could eat a lot more healthy meals of rice and chicken if all that water were put on crops instead.

And if they did, their subsequently thinner bodies would make a lot less noise traipsing through the Ozarks in search of Li'l Woody.

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