The green timber of Arkansas is part of John Riggs' past, and now he's becoming part of its future. Since 2011, his support for DU has resulted in more than $100,000 for conservation work on Arkansas' Cache River.
John Riggs IV of Little Rock, Arkansas, is president of J. A. Riggs Tractor Company, one of the oldest Caterpillar dealers in the United States. He is the fourth generation of the Riggs family to lead the business since it was founded in 1927 by John Riggs, Sr.
The Riggs family passed on far more than a family business, however. They handed down a heritage of generous philanthropy and community service in Arkansas. Today, John and his wife, Anna, are continuing this tradition.
"That's always been an expectation in my family to take part in our community, to better it," John says. "I've chosen to do that through conservation and education."
Through the Riggs Benevolent Fund, J.A. Riggs Tractor Company donated $50,000 to support DU's conservation projects on the Dixie Farms and Plunkett units of Cache River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Caterpillar matched their donation dollar for dollar through the Caterpillar Foundation's Dealer Environmental Sustainability Fund.
The Cache River Basin is one of only 33 sites in the United States designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty of 162 member countries adopted in 1971 to recognize an international network of wetlands important to conserving biodiversity.
Cache River NWR, established in 1986 to protect significant wetland habitats and provide feeding and resting areas for large numbers of wintering waterfowl, is a highly popular area for sportsmen and women. Many years, the Cache River basin winters a large number of North America's mallards each year. Ducks Unlimited and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are currently partnering on a multi-year plan to restore and create habitat, provide important food sources for ducks, and increase hunting opportunities on the Dixie Farms and Plunkett units. Restoration of these important hunt and rest areas wouldn't be possible without the support of Riggs Caterpillar and The Caterpillar Foundation.
In addition to Dixie and Plunkett, Riggs Caterpillar is also invested in the restoration of the lower 7 miles of the Cache River, channelized by the Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1970s. "I grew up hunting on the Cache with my grandfather," John says. "He was my mentor in the outdoors, and when plans to channelize the Cache were made, I can remember having conversations with my grandfather about it."
John's grandfather, John Riggs, Jr., served with the Corps of Engineers during World War II. He served on President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Interstate Commerce Commission, was instrumental in turning the Arkansas River into a navigable system, and was a key member of the Inland Waterways Commission and the Mississippi Valley Association. He served as president of the Pulaski County Flood Control Association for many years, and was also president of the Arkansas Basin Association. John Riggs Jr. was beyond qualified to voice his opinion on the channelization of the Cache River.
"My grandfather said channelizing the Cache was the worst thing you could do to the river," John remembers. "That struck me, because he rarely found a project he didn't like."
Just as John Riggs, Jr. predicted, channelization destroyed much of the river's waterfowl and wildlife habitat, which had brought significant income to the region.
"In a lot of practical respects, that section of the river died because it was no longer a wild thing left to its own devices," John says. "So when Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy came to me and said they wanted to reverse that channelization, with the support of our whole family, we decided we wanted to invest in that effort."
John says channelizing the Cache River was done with good intentions, but not backed by sound science. "Maybe back then there wasn't sound science, but that's not the case anymore," he explains. "We have sound science that gives us information on what our impact will be on the natural world. So now you see people trying to undo things done 50 years ago, because we're smarter now and realize our mistakes."
With sound science and strong determination, John and Anna are committed to building on the legacy of the Riggs family and handing the next generation a healthier Cache River—and a better world—through their support of Ducks Unlimited's conservation efforts.