8 months ago

Hunting and fishing boost Black Belt economy

With other areas of Alabama enjoying an economic boon in manufacturing and industry, one well-known area of the state has discovered its treasure lies in its fertile soil and natural resources.

The Alabama Black Belt’s treasure is found in its abundant wildlife and fisheries with the multi-species hunting and angling opportunities and the significant economic boosts those provide.

At a press conference and book-signing event held at the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery last week, the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA) revealed the results of a study on the economic impact of hunting and fishing in the Black Belt, a swath of counties that cuts across the middle of the state.

The Black Belt counties are Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

“You may not know that hunting and fishing in the Black Belt generates $1 billion of economic impact and provides thousands of jobs throughout the 23-county area,” said Thomas Harris, ALBBAA president and founder. “There are over 11 million acres that are truly unique in this country with its abundance of wildlife, culture and heritage. These assets are on the ground and under our feet. Our mission has been to energize these assets and recruit these eco-tourism dollars to the region. This is a rural economic development program that is working. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a leadership team and dedicated team of board members who are passionate about promoting and branding nationally the Alabama Black Belt Adventures as the premier destination for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.”

Alabama State Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said the impact ALBBAA has on the area has been “tremendous.”

“Being a son of the soil, I want to thank the Black Belt Adventures for their dedication to the area known as the Black Belt,” Sen. Singleton said. “While we may not be inundated with a lot of industries with smokestacks, we are inundated with a successful industry called wildlife. As an avid hunter and fisherman myself, I enjoy the Black Belt as much as those who travel to the Black Belt to enjoy our rich culture. We look forward to hunters and fishermen who come into our area to visit our lodges, who come into the area to see and visit our historic civil rights sites. We welcome them to the area. We love to hear about that $1 billion industry in the Black Belt.”

ALBBAA commissioned Southeast Research to study the economic impact of outdoors activities in the Black Belt. The research company derived its economic impact report from data from a national study from the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the American Sportfishing Association. Hunting and fishing license holders who had shared their email addresses with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) were also polled by the research company.

The study revealed that spending by sportsmen and women in the Black Belt supports 24,716 jobs, resulting in salaries and wages of $364 million, state and local taxes of $62 million, a $28 million contribution to Alabama’s Education Trust Fund, and a total economic impact of more than $1 billion.

“Hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation are part of the way of life in Alabama, and especially important in the Black Belt,” said ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship. “I have enjoyed participating on the Board of Alabama Black Belt Adventures to promote this portion of Alabama. These 23 counties contain some of the best hunting land anywhere in the United States. It produces big bucks and turkeys, as well as big bass and crappie in the lakes and waterways. There are some pretty special small towns and special people in the Black Belt. I hope more people will venture out into this beautiful part of Alabama and visit the small-town shops and eclectic restaurants and attractions that really show some of the best of Alabama.”

Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes grew up in the Black Belt and has witnessed its emergence as the destination of choice for hunters and anglers.

“Some of my fondest childhood memories are of hunting with my father in Choctaw County,” Sykes said. “Those early years hunting and fishing in the Black Belt shaped me into who I am today. That love of hunting and the outdoors fueled my desire to attend Auburn University and pursue a degree in Wildlife Science. Since that time, I’ve dedicated my career to managing wildlife, either through one-on-one landowner consultations or now in my current position. Not only is hunting a way of life and a time-honored tradition, but I’d bet many of the little towns in the Black Belt would dry up and go away without hunters and fishermen.”

Statewide in Alabama, outdoor recreation supports 73,553 jobs, providing $1.1 billion in salaries and wages, $185 million in state and local taxes and $84 million for the Alabama Education Trust Fund. The total economic impact of hunting and fishing in Alabama is $3.2 billion.

Pam Swanner, ALBBAA Executive Director, debuted two new 30-second television advertisements that will reach a quarter of the nation’s households. Gray Television, which acquired Raycom Media early this year, will continue Raycom’s partnership with ALBBAA to air Black Belt tourism commercials on almost 150 affiliates.

Dr. David Bronner, Chief Executive Officer of Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), said the television market has been a boon for the Black Belt, and he wants to continue that outreach through the RSA-controlled print media.

“We were at 12½ percent of the American population, but now we’re up to 25 percent,” Dr. Bronner said. “With Gray Television, you (ALBBAA) are in more than the Southeast. You’re actually in Alaska. You’re in Hawaii. Right about 25 percent of the American population sees you daily. What we want to work on more is our newspaper group. We have 100 daily newspapers in 22 states, from Massachusetts to Texas basically. We can put full-page ads in those pages. We’ll be glad to help with that. For many decades we have tried to do things to impact the Black Belt. It’s extremely difficult. We’ve funded a couple of pulp mills, but when Thomas came to me with this idea, I knew it was something really special. He brought with him Mr. Deer (Jackie Bushman) and Mr. Fish (Ray Scott) – those two guys did our first ads. But I came to thank you, because doing something for the Black Belt is so meaningful for the entire state.”

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) said the Alabama Black Belt is special to him for a variety of reasons.

“I love the outdoors,” Lt. Gov. Ainsworth said. “I love Alabama, and I love the Black Belt. I have stories that are personal to me. I was fortunate to kill my first deer with my dad, hunting in Linden, Alabama, when I was 5 years old. I killed my first deer with a bow, hunting in Wilcox County when I was 12. I got to watch both of my sons shoot their first deer in the Black Belt. When you talk about the Black Belt, it’s very personal to me. Being in the hunting industry and traveling around the country, people know about the Black Belt. Just like South Dakota is known for pheasants or other places are known for great fishing. They know about the Black Belt because of what the Association has done. I want to thank Dr. Bronner for helping us get the word out. It’s a huge industry, and we need to continue to promote it. We want to do everything we can to make sure the hunting and fishing industries in the Black Belt continue to be vibrant.”

To celebrate ALBBAA’s 10th anniversary, the new coffee table book “Black Belt Bounty” was unveiled at the press conference. Numerous contributors, including James Beard award-winning Alabama chefs Chris Hastings and David Bancroft, celebrity chef Stacy Lyn Harris, wildlife artists, wildlife photographers and outdoors writers, were on hand for a book-signing event for the deluxe hardcover book that highlights and commemorates the outdoor traditions and culture of the Black Belt. Full disclosure: I had the honor to contribute three stories for the book.

Visit alabamablackbeltadventures.org/blackbeltbountybook/ to purchase “Black Belt Bounty.” It would make a perfect Christmas gift.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

2 hours ago

7 Things: Ivey mandates masks, Huntsville added to coronavirus hotspot list, Trump calls out the left’s attack on America and more …

7. Low rent in Alabama isn’t low enough

  • The annual “Out of Reach” report released by the National Law Income Housing Coalition suggests that even though Alabama has one of the lowest rent costs in the country, it’s still too high and unaffordable for minimum wage workers. 
  • The report says that most minimum wage workers can’t afford the rent for a one-bedroom apartment in 95% of U.S. counties, and none can afford the rent of a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S. Alabama came in 46th for housing costs, and figures that a worker in the state must earn $15.44 per hour to afford a two-bedroom rental.

6. Secret Trump voters

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  • Recent polling indicates that President Donald Trump is trailing former Vice President Joe Biden. This trend is indicated in national polls by Rasmussen and Quinnipiac, as well as swing state polls that place him down double digits in Pennsylvania and even in Texas.
  • In Pennsylvania, a polling firm asked about “secret Trump voters,” or voters who don’t want to say they support Trump publicly, and 57% of respondents said that those voters will not admit they support Trump but will vote for him November.

5. Trump knows what’s best for Alabama, apparently

  • President Donald Trump endorsed former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville in the U.S. Senate runoff, and now Tuberville will face U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in the general election, so Trump has started his attacks against Jones. 
  • Trump criticized Jones for “not doing the job,” and added that Jones “doesn’t represent the views of the people of Alabama.” He went on to praise Tuberville, saying that will be “a great senator.”

4. Biden wants to get rid of the “American way of life”

  • President Donald Trump has released another attack on former Vice President Joe Biden, saying that he and “the Radical Left want to Abolish Police, Abolish ICE, Abolish Bail, Abolish Suburbs, Abolish the 2nd Amendment – and Abolish the American Way of Life.”
  • President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign national press secretary Hogan Gidley said that “Biden is waging war” on the “American way of life,” jobs and families, but Biden has attacked Trump on the coronavirus pandemic again recently, saying that “unlike this president, I’ll actually listen to the experts and head their advice.” That came in response to a report about recent tensions between the White House and Dr. Anthony Fauci. 

3. Huntsville is on the national watchlist

  • Due to the rise in coronavirus cases and the positive test percentage being more than 10%, Huntsville has been added to a national watchlist of cases, and people from the national response team are assisting the area. 
  • Dr. Pam Hudson, CEO of Crestwood Medical Center, said that the current rate of those hospitalized having to be placed in the ICU is around 30%. She said while our hospitalization numbers seem to be “flattening,” there’s still 132 people hospitalized, and the county positive test percentage is at 15%. 

2. CDC: Coronavirus could be under control in the U.S. if people wore masks

  • The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Dr. Robert Redfield has said that if everyone starts wearing a face mask, “over the next four to six, eight weeks, we can bring this epidemic under control.”
  • Due to early conflicting reports about the effectiveness of masks, many people still refuse to wear them, but statewide mask mandates are also becoming more popular as states have coronavirus case spikes, leaving governors with the options of mask mandates or shutdowns. 

1. Statewide mask order is happening

  • Governor Kay Ivey has revised the state “Safer-At-Home” health order to include a statewide mask requirement, which will supersede all current mask mandates in counties and cities. This was expected as deaths and coronavirus cases continue to increase across Alabama. 
  • While U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) praised the move, Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth has made it clear that he supports wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but he’s also voiced his opposition to the mask mandate, saying the order “is an overstep that infringes upon the property rights of business owners and the ability of individuals to make their own health decisions.”

Byrne: A fiscal reckoning

When the House returns to business next Monday, we will take up the National Defense Authorization Act I wrote about last week. Then, we will take up appropriations bills for next fiscal year, which begins October 1, and likely another coronavirus bill.

This spring I voted for both of the CARES Acts, which together spent $3 trillion. That was on top of this year’s projected total federal spending of $4.8 trillion, which was already going to add $1 trillion to our national debt. With the CARES Act spending, however, the total deficit for this fiscal year will be $3.7 trillion. The deficit for the month of June alone was $864 billion.

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Following the work of the Democrat-controlled House Appropriations Committee last week, I became very concerned about the bills they will pass out of their committee this week and that the House will vote on later this month. They are exceeding the spending cap deal reached by their leadership, Senate leadership and President Trump last year. Just as bad, they are loading up their spending bills with controversial policy riders they know Republicans won’t vote for. Unless they make a big change, I’m going to vote against the House version of appropriations for next year. I hope the Senate brings some sanity to the process.

I also have big concerns over another coronavirus bill. We’ve spent so much money already, money we don’t have and are borrowing. And I don’t agree with the Modern Monetary Theory which says deficits don’t matter. I won’t bore you with the very solid arguments against it by eminent economists because common sense is all you need to understand individuals and nations can’t borrow unlimited amounts of money over the long term. That’s even true for the richest nation the world has ever known.

Investors buy U.S. government debt in the form of treasury bills (which are government securities due to be paid in a year), treasury notes and bonds (which mature over a longer time frame), and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (bonds indexed to inflation). They don’t do that out of patriotism or the good of their hearts. This isn’t World Wars I or II where bonds are purchased in a great national effort. No, the investors who buy our debt do it for their own self-interested reasons, and they expect to be paid back in full and on time. If they believe that they may not get paid back because the U.S. won’t be able to make the ever-growing payments, they will stop buying our debt.

And that’s when reality kicks in. It recently happened to Greece and Italy, both of which experienced severe economic turmoil and downturns. It could happen here too because even the U.S. is not immune from the laws of economics. It would be catastrophic for us, but it would be catastrophic for the world as well. If the U.S. falls economically, who gains the most? The answer is China, which already has concrete plans to replace us as the most powerful country in the world. We owe them $1 trillion and counting.

So, we need to start thinking longer term which hasn’t been a U.S. strong point for some time. Yes, we must deal with COVID-19 both as a health crisis and a danger to our economy. But, it’s time to be more focused and avoid the panicky temptation to just shovel out money. The money we have already approved hasn’t even been all spent.

What should be our priorities in the next coronavirus bill? First, it’s the cost of developing and making readily available a vaccine, just as the U.S. did with the polio vaccine during my childhood. Second, it’s the care for those who contract COVID-19, which includes effective therapeutics, and protecting the caregivers themselves. Third, it’s making sure we have the tests and PPE we need. These three all deal directly with the disease because our society and economy cannot return to “normal” until we address the disease more effectively. All of us have an individual duty in this regard, to avoid large gatherings and those most at risk of the disease, to social distance and wear face masks inside buildings.

But, when we turn to the economy, I have great concerns. I know the PPP loans/grants worked to save millions of U.S. jobs and bring many of those laid off back to work. So, maybe we start there. But, as I drive around, I see many “help wanted” and “now hiring” signs, and I hear from many business owners that they can’t get employees back to work. So, we must ask the question, do we need to keep paying the extra $600 a week to those drawing unemployment? Have we created a disincentive to work? Everyone has their hand out: colleges, schools, hospitals, this industry and that industry, the states and local governments. Where will all this money come from?

So, as we approach these two big spending projects, I am very skeptical. I’m not saying I won’t vote for either, but it looks like the FY 21 appropriations bills will just be too much for me to support. On a new coronavirus bill, I’m taking a wait and see position. My mind is open but not empty. It’s time we start reckoning with our fiscal deficits – before we’re painfully forced to by our creditors.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

16 hours ago

Gov. Ivey meets with Dr. Deborah Birx about COVID-19

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Wednesday hosted Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, at the Alabama State Capitol.

Ivey, Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and Birx met first in the governor’s office, before moving to a roundtable discussion with various state health care professionals, members of the business and religious communities and lawmakers.

Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary, said in a release that “Dr. Birx emphasized very strongly that this is a critical time for the South to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

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Per Maiola, Birx also lauded the governor’s new statewide mask mandate as “brilliant” and integral to keeping Alabama businesses open and operating safely.

“A variety of topics were discussed and questions were asked on anything from testing, to Remdesivir and reopening schools and churches safely. Dr. Birx explained that early on the virus seemed to be concentrated in large cities in the Northeast, however, this has not proven to be accurate in the South. She expressed how the South, specifically Alabama, has high rates statewide. Dr. Birx told the governor that she was personally worried about the South, which is why she visited our state in person. Governor Ivey is appreciative for her time and knowledge and looks forward to keeping an open dialogue with her and the Trump Administration as we work through the pandemic,” the governor’s spokesperson concluded.

RELATED: Doug Jones: Ivey’s statewide mask mandate ‘the right thing’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

16 hours ago

Doug Jones: Ivey’s statewide mask mandate ‘the right thing’

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is backing Governor Kay Ivey’s statewide mask mandate, which goes into effect Thursday at 5:00 p.m. CT.

Jones is a member of the U.S. Senate Health Committee and recently hosted Dr. Anthony Fauci on his weekly live-streamed press conference.

Alabama’s junior senator also released a campaign ad encouraging members of the public to wear face masks.

In a statement on Thursday, Jones said, “Governor Ivey did the right thing today by enacting a statewide mask policy.”

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“Unlike her counterparts in other Deep South states, Governor Ivey is clearly following the advice of health care professionals,” he continued. “Many Alabama communities in COVID-19 hotspots have already taken this step, which will help limit the spread of this virus and reduce the strain on our struggling hospitals and health care workers, and it just makes sense to do it on a statewide basis.”

“We all want to move past this deadly, disruptive pandemic. By taking the simple steps of wearing a mask and social distancing, we can each do our part to protect lives and livelihoods,” Jones concluded.

RELATED: Ainsworth: Statewide mask mandate ‘an overstep’ — ‘One-size-fits-all, big government requirement’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

17 hours ago

World Games to feature flag football for first time ever at Birmingham 2022 event

The World Games 2022 Birmingham on Wednesday announced that flag football will join its existing lineup of 32 unique, multi-disciplinary sports.

This international multisport event features sports and disciplines not included in the Olympics. The event is typically held one year after the Olympics.

Since the 2020 Olympics were postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Games in Birmingham originally scheduled for 2021 were also pushed back a year.

Wednesday’s announcement was made in partnership with the International World Games Association (IWGA), National Football League (NFL) and International Federation of American Football (IFAF).

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RELATED: World Games 2022 Birmingham names Charles Barkley as honorary co-chair — ‘Chance to show the world what this community and its people are all about’

The 2022 event in Birmingham will be the first edition of the World Games on American soil since 1981.

Hosted at historic Legion Field, flag football at the World Games 2022 Birmingham will be presented by the NFL and feature eight men’s teams and eight women’s teams from around the world.

“We are grateful that the NFL recognizes the significance that The World Games 2022 will have as the first major international sporting event in the United States coming out of this global pandemic,” stated Nick Sellers, CEO of the World Games 2022.

As the current reigning world champions, the United States men’s and women’s teams both pre-qualify. The remaining teams will be selected through the IFAF qualifying process.

“The world is longing to reconnect, and Birmingham, Alabama will play a pivotal role in that reconnection,” Sellers added. “The NFL’s partnership sends a signal to every company in the world that associating their brand with this special event is important for the world to see.”

The World Games 2022 Birmingham will take place July 7-17, 2022, and will generate an estimated $256 million in economic impact.

“Football is a staple of Southern sports and will be a welcome addition to The 2022 World Games lineup,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “Non-contact sports like flag football are a great way to open up competition to all skill levels. That type of accessibility and inclusion is what The World Games is all about, providing incredible experiences and lasting memories for participants and spectators to enjoy. Birmingham can’t wait for the world to join us in 2022.”

NFL FLAG is an NFL licensed property of more than 1,600 locally-operated leagues and over 500,000 youth athletes across all 50 states. NFL FLAG has regular participation from more than 3 million youth and adults in the United States.

“The addition of flag football to the World Games brings tremendous global value as the NFL looks to expand the NFL FLAG brand worldwide,” commented Izell Reese, executive director of NFL FLAG. “With support from NFL Global Ambassador and NFL FLAG Chairman Russell Wilson, we’ve committed to creating more opportunities for athletes around the world to play flag, and we look forward to teaming up with the City of Birmingham and the World Games Committee to share the NFL FLAG experience with even more athletes and fans.”

“We are so excited to bring flag football to the international stage during The World Games 2022 in Birmingham,” added Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Super Bowl champion and NFL FLAG chairman Russell Wilson. “Flag football expands the sport of football by providing easier access to our game for men and women from all walks of life. With a huge international platform like this, we’ll create opportunities for kids and adults around the world to experience and learn the game of football, while helping grow the sport’s global popularity.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn