LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday he has directed five state agencies to develop a plan to protect the Buffalo National River watershed.


In a memo, Hutchinson said he has directed the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Health, the Agriculture Department, the Department of Parks and Tourism and the Natural Resources Commission “to develop an Arkansas-led approach to identify and to address potential issues of common concern in the Buffalo River watershed.”


A watershed is the area around a body of water from which materials can drain into the body of water.


The agencies will create the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee, which will consist of the agencies and other partners, the governor said. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission — which is not part of the executive branch of government — has volunteered to be the first partner, he said.


Hutchinson said he was directing the committee “to establish measurable objectives, set achievable action items, establish durable partnerships, share agency resources, and inform policymakers and the general public of relevant progress.”


The committee will hold meetings at least quarterly, make recommendations to the governor and make annual reports on its progress to the governor, with the first annual report due Jan. 31, 2018.


Hutchinson set the following four priorities for the commission’s year: creating an open forum for stakeholders to share information and work together; beginning to develop a management plan for the watershed, using a federal Environmental Protection Agency grant for funding; identifying projects that can be immediately implemented to improve or maintain the vitality of the watershed; and prioritize research needs.


“The Buffalo River is a national treasure and a significant agricultural, recreational, and natural resource,” he said in the memo. “I am directing this Arkansas-led collaborative to proactively engage in protecting and supporting the protection and enhancement of the Buffalo River Watershed through partnership, research, and action.”