Wednesday, January 23, 2008

An unlikely (and ultimately unsuccessful) source of economic recovery in the Mississippi Delta

A story in today's New York Times, "A Woodpecker Boom and Bust," offers a distinctive angle on the supposed re-discovery three years ago of the ivory-billed woodpecker near Brinkley, Arkansas. Brinkley, population 3,940, is in Monroe County (population 10,254), and is one of the poorest places in the state. Residents there hoped for economic resurgence when Cornell ornithologists and the Nature Conservancy announced that they had found the rare bird there. Journalist Laura Farrar tells of how the reported sighting fueled hopes of an "economic turnaround not seen since the soybean boom of the 1970s":

After the sighting was announced, local economies seemed to benefit for a while as scientists, bird-watchers and news media outlets from around the world flocked to Brinkley and to the other communities in the patchwork quilt of fragmented forest and farmland that surrounds the Big Woods.

“People came from everywhere,” said Gene DePriest, who still has an ivory-billed cheeseburger, salad and dessert on the menu of his barbecue restaurant in Brinkley. “I sold over $20,000 worth of T-shirts in six months.”

Now, however, with no confirmed sightings of the bird, the boom is past, leaving Brinkley and neighboring communities to look elsewhere for economic rejuvenation.

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