A Division of Rock Art, Ltd
4279 Midway Drive
Douglasville, Georgia 30134
December 27, 2015
White Oak Pastures
22775 US Hwy 27
Bluffton, Georgia 39828
Attn: Jodi Harris Benoit - Tourism Manager
Will Harris - Owner
Regards: ‘Soaring Eagle Population’ at Whit Oak Pastures
Dear Jodi and Will,
I want to thank you both for your hospitality, the private tour and allowing me the run of the place during my visit to White Oak Pastures last week. It was a pleasure finally meeting you both.
I would like to share with you my observations and recommendations toward your Eagle situation from the view point of a conservationist, businessman and photographer. The unique and modern farming techniques developed by White Oak Pastures have resulted in the soaring Eagle population that is creating an ever growing loss in livestock, which means a loss in revenue. As a Federally Protected Species, the Eagles have to be tolerated instead of eliminated. So the question is, how to turn the Eagle problem into a source of income. The Eagles are a natural resource that you are paying for and therefore should benefit from in some way.
The American Bald Eagle is one of the most iconic and revered animals in nature with a public following like no other species. When the Eagle population was nearly devastated by pesticide use in the 1960's we learned a lesson, however the lesson actually took 200 years. The bald eagle was declared the nation's symbol back in 1782, but that didn't keep Americans from regarding it as a predator and misguided individuals from shooting it and destroying their eggs for most of the next two centuries. The final stroke was the introduction of the pesticide DDT, which tainted the Eagles' prey and accumulated in the birds' tissues. It made eggshells too fragile to withstand a parent bird's weight and killed eagle embryos. The Eagle started down a path to recovery in 1972, when the Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT. Six years later, the government declared the eagle endangered in 43 states and threatened, denoting a lower level of protection, in five. That allowed money to be spent on breeding eagles in captivity and releasing them into the wild.
The very same public that supports White Oak Pastures and buys your products because of the humane and natural techniques employed by your organization is the same public that saved the Eagle from extinction. They will come from all over to view these birds. White Oak Pastures is primed to have the largest congregation of eagles in the Southeast and that is why proper planning and implementation to control and benefit from this natural resource is important.
Initial plans need to have a minimum investment for the start-up of Eagle tourism to evaluate potential income. It should have minimum liability risk exposure and maximum customer safety, eliminating additional vehicle traffic on property and keeping customers in designated areas at all times. The plan should give the best advantage of the Eagles for the viewing public and photographers. This will create an opportunity for package plans for Eagle viewing in conjunction with accommodations, restaurant and merchandise sales. This will increase traffic and generate revenue to all aspects of the White Oak Pastures business model.
One of my consulting projects in 2015 was centered on the migratory Eagles that have been growing in numbers over the years at White Oak Pastures in Southwest Georgia. White Oak Pastures is a fifth generation farm, established in 1866, owned and operated by Will Harris and his family. Will is a remarkable individual who's ideas and convictions towards the 'Free Range' method of raising and cultivating livestock has brought him national recognition. Farmers and agricultural students nationwide flock to White Oak Pastures to seek the wisdom and guidance of this unique individual and to study and learn from the successful business model he has established.
Read the full synopsis and my recommendations regarding the soaring Eagle population presented to White Oak Pastures and the Harris family below.
Additional information on White Oak Pastures
See the Fall 2016 Issue of Audubon Magazine article on White Oak Pastures - HERE
1) Free public viewing has to be minimized. An effort needs to be made to lobby the Department of Transportation in both Clay and Early counties for “No Parking” signs on both sides of Highway 27 along the property line. This should be an easy sell, the 65-mph speed limit with tractor trailers and logging trucks zooming past creates a real public safety hazard with people being distracted and stopping to see the Eagles. This would be the first step in controlling the free viewing of your Eagle resource.
2) Install a number of Blinds at optimal locations on the property to rent out for public viewing of the Eagles. Blinds should vary in size and price range from 2 to 8 persons. Each blind can be priced according to its size so that each person sharing a blind will pay in the neighborhood of $50.00 per outing (a very reasonable amount).
The blinds will rent twice a day for a morning session and an afternoon session of 2 to 3 hours each. This would have a 2 person blind renting for $100.00 per session and an 8 person blind renting for $400.00 per session and would accommodate individuals as well as groups. A variety of blinds are available from pre-fab to constructed in house. This set-up will be ideal and attract motivated photographers of all skill levels, and nothing motivates a nature photographer more than the opportunity to get close to Eagles. The following are the type blinds that are available for consideration.
3) Photographers will park, sign-in and pay rental fees at the main office. Then will be sent to the pavilion as the staging area and a final bathroom break before departure. Customers will be delivered to their respective blind by White Oak personnel in a White Oak vehicle. During the drive over, the driver can give a talk about the White Oak property, history and unique aspects that may interest the passengers. Additionally the rules and procedures for the use of the blinds and proper etiquette for Eagle viewing should be discussed. Once the session has ended, customers are picked up and returned to the pavilion building to enjoy a meal at the restaurant and purchase merchandise and souvenirs in the store. This check-in procedure gives the customers a better idea of the White Oak facility and all the services available in an easy, efficient manner. This system will give White Oak full control of customer handling, location and revenue collection at all times and will work with a single photographer as well as larger groups.
4) Casual Eagle viewers, families with small children and elderly groups or individuals will not be so inclined to spent 2 to 3 hours in a blind as a motivated photographer, this is why a second viewing option should be available. A White Oak vehicle that can take tour groups for a leisurely drive around the property will be needed. The driver/tour guide or a second tour guide can then entertain passengers with conversation and information about the eagles as well as the White Oak Pastures history and operation. Once the tour is completed, they are dropped back off at the Pavilion and can dine at the restaurant or browse the store.
Generally Eagle Tour operations have great success around the country with far less Eagles than are available at White Oak Pastures. One such operation is in the community of Tiptonville Tennessee at Reelfoot Lake (see more at http://www.reelfoot.com/eagles.htm). I have been to and on Reelfoot Lake on three different occasions at different times in the winter and have yet to understand the attraction, the number of Eagles is very low. The Ducks are very plentiful but you cannot photograph them during the hunting season without the risk of being peppered with shotgun pellets all day long. If you do not have a boat, then the chance of seeing an Eagle up close is next to none and yet they draw big crowds to this community each year.
Observations during my visit along with the wonderful insight from Dan Coady, White Oak’s Poultry Production Manager, as we discussed the relationship, in his view, between the Eagles and his flock have me excited about the potential here. The amble food source for the Eagles at White Oak Pastures combined with the amazing number of juvenile birds that I encountered during my recent visit is a sure indication that your Eagle population will continue to grow during migratory season each year. In addition, the nesting population of mating pairs will surely increase resulting in a possible year round Eagle Tourism business for White Oak Pastures. All-n-all the tourism revenue could surely be away to offset the nearly one-thousand dollars a day ($125,000.00 a year) in lost live stock that affects the farms bottom line.
I look forward to my next trip to White Oak for further photo opportunities with more productive weather conditions than my last visit. I hope to get some images that can be used by you for marketing and web-site usage. My connection with this part of Georgia is well documented as is the influence from my family and friends that have and still do live in this area. The time spent in Clay County during my childhood and young adult years established my love and appreciation for nature that is a major part of my life today. Giving back to this community and contributing, in some small way, to its prosperity is important to me.
In closing let me once again thank you both as well as Dan for having me as a guest at the company Christmas Party during my stay at White Oak Pastures. I want to compliment your entire family along with all your loyal and wonderful employees for their generosity and kindness. You guys really set quite the table with all the home cook’n and tasty delights from the farm. A 'Special Treat' and true ‘Southern Hospitality’ is what everyone that visits can expect to find at White Oak Pastures.
If I can be of any further assistance please advise,
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