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Wildlife provides economic opportunity, speaker says

The Black Belt offers many options to use and observe wildlife.

Statistics back up the booming business of both, said Tim Gothard, executive director of the Alabama Wildlife Federation.

Gothard spoke Thursday morning at a breakfast for City-Farm Week at the Central Alabama Farmer’s Co-op in Selma.

“I think there are excellent opportunities for us to convert the Black Belt as a destination for a variety of outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities,” said Gothard. “A lot of it can’t be replicated by other places. The Black Belt is unique.”

According to Gothard, 12 1/2 million people spend $23 billion annually on hunting. But surprisingly, 71 million people spend $46 billion on bird watching.

This is where rural development comes in. Although one person enjoys hunting, fishing or bird watching, it is not likely that every member of that person’s family or party is willing to travel to participate in the activity. Economic development could provide other options to bring them in, keep them entertained and keep them in the Black Belt.

“That backdrop provides a unique opportunity for us to attract people for outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities that they can do,” said Gothard. “This a concept that is worth detailed study to find ways that we can capitalize on these opportunities for the Black Belt.”

But starting economic development may face some early difficulty.

“It’s going to take the actual landowners taking the initiative to do it,” said Tim Wood, general manager of the Central Alabama Farmers Co-op. “As far as what they’re trying to do, I think it’s a great idea.”