ABCs of the WMAs
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Manages 49 Wildlife Management Areas Throughout The State
story by Stephanie Cockerham, LDWF Staff
Trey Iles, LDWF Public Information
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries takes great pride in its Wildlife Management Areas. At present, the state’s 49 WMAs encompass about 1.6 million of Louisiana’s 33 million acres or about 4.4 percent of the state.
But you may be wondering, just what is a WMA and how can ordinary citizens in Louisiana take advantage of these treasured lands? To begin a WMA is not a state park although portions of LDWF’s WMA system can be used for activities you might equate to a park. The WMAs aren’t manicured and mowed with picnic tables and play areas for children.
Basically, a WMA is an area set aside, maintained and supervised by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission for the purpose of managing and harvesting wild animals and aquatic life under controlled conditions, providing public hunting and fishing opportunities. The WMAs are state owned or leased areas managed by LDWF to provide wildlife focused outdoor recreational activities. So, think more of the Louisiana wild outdoors when you envision LDWF WMAs.
Louisiana’s WMAs are accessible for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and many other activities. But that just tells part of the story. LDWF biologists and technicians manage WMAs to provide habitat conditions necessary to support the broad diversity of wildlife associated with these areas, be it game or non-game. Research and management of WMA lands play vital parts in LDWF’s overall mission.
The WMAs in our state represent every facet of Louisiana’s Sportsman’s Paradise. From Bodcau WMA in the far corner of northwest Louisiana all the way to Pass a Loutre WMA at the mouth of the Mississippi River in southeast Louisiana, LDWF’s WMAs offer outdoors enthusiasts everything they could possibly imagine.
The terrain consists of rolling hills, swamps, marshes and forests, along with the accompanying fish and wildlife with which you may associate those lands. That’s the overview. But here are some specifics on what our WMAs entail.
How can I access Louisiana’s WMAs?
If you have a valid hunting or fishing license, you’re good to go. But if you don’t LDWF offers a Wild Louisiana stamp for $9.50 that allows you entrance onto WMAs. Those can be purchased online or at any LDWF license vendor. Children 16 and younger or adults 60 and older are exempt for this and may use WMAs at their leisure. Everyone, however, must check in and out. There are two ways to do this. At points of entry to the WMAs you’ll find kiosks with self-clearing permits. Recently, LDWF created a mobile app that allows WMA users to check in and out online. To download, users may visit www.wlf.la.gov/apps. It is available on both Android and Apple platforms.
What if I want to Hunt or Fish on Wmas?
You’ll be in good company. The primary use for WMAs is for those two purposes. Almost half the activity recorded on non-coastal WMAs is hunting with about 30 percent of users fishing. On coastal WMAs, the anglers make up about 70 percent of the user groups and 28 percent hunters. Hunting regulations on WMAs can differ from the rest of the state. To access the current WMA hunting regulations, go to www.eregulations.com/louisiana/hunting/wildlife-management-area-regulations/. You’ll be able to access each individual WMA’s regulations there. There are also some different regulations for fishing as well. Go to www.eregulations.com/louisiana/fishing/w-m-a-s-refuges-federal-lands/ for more information.
What can I hunt on WMAs?
Every game species is available, though not on every WMA. As you might have guessed, deer hunting is the most popular with about 75 percent of hunters utilizing the WMAs looking to harvest deer. Some of the most popular and successful WMAs for deer include Dewey W. Wills WMA, Sherburne WMA and Richard K. Yancey WMA. To check out the latest WMA deer hunting statistics, go to www.wlf.la.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/pagehunting/41388-research-and-management/annual_deer_harvest_report_2017-18.pdf. Waterfowl hunting is also popular, especially in Louisiana’s coastal WMAs. Pass a Loutre WMA, Atchafalaya Delta WMA and Point Aux Chenes WMA are popular and have historically produced good harvest rates. But deer and ducks aren’t the only game. Small game hunting can be a great way to learn how to hunt and LDWF’s WMAs are loaded with squirrel, rabbit, and other species.
Several WMAs offer small game emphasis areas. This allows small game hunting with dogs confined to that specific area when the remainder of the WMA is restricted to still-hunt only. In addition, off season training of rabbit and bird dogs is permitted in some of the small game emphasis areas. See LDWF WMA hunting regulations to find a small game emphasis area near you.
Do Wmas Offer Special Youth Seasons and Lottery Hunts?
Yes, and many WMAs have this available. Several offer youth seasons and youth lottery hunts. There are also seasons and lottery hunts for physically challenged hunters as well as disabled veterans. Some WMAs feature special deer and waterfowl hunting areas with blinds and stands made for physically challenged wheelchair confined hunters. Those are available at Alexander State Forest, Bayou Pierre, Big Colewa Bayou, Buckhorn, Clear Creek, Floy Ward McElroy, Fort Polk-Vernon, Maurepas Swamp, Russell Sage and Sherburne WMAs. To see when lottery hunts are offered, go to www.wlf.la.gov/hunting/lottery-hunts. And to find out when special seasons are offered, go to the current hunting regulations.
What about Fishing?
Like hunting, you can catch every coastal and freshwater fish available in the state on WMAs. At Pass a Loutre, you may be able to catch bass, speckled trout, redfish and even red snapper in the same day. LDWF has constructed piers on some WMAs and also has available boat launches that can be utilized for fishing or waterfowl hunting. But fish aren’t the only available species to haul from the water. Users can catch crawfish, shrimp and crabs as well as go frogging. Best to check the fishing regulations for specific information.
is it Possible to Stay Overnight?
Camping is offered at many WMAs. Most are primitive camping but some allow RV camping. Most campgrounds do not provide electricity or running water so check the information for a specific WMA prior to visiting if you are seeking these amenities. Camping is available on a first-come, first-served basis so no reservations are taken.
I don’t Hunt or Fish But Enjoy Being Outdoors. What’s There to do for me?
Plenty. If you enjoy birding, Louisiana’s WMAs are the perfect place to be. From the brown pelican to the bald eagle to the beautifully colored neo-tropical migratory song birds, you’ll see many birds. LDWF maintains numerous hiking and nature trails on the WMAs. Some of them are fairly primitive so before you plan a trip make sure you can ably navigate them. For instance, Tunica Hills WMA in West Feliciana Parish offers three hiking trails, with some impressive views, but be prepared for some uphill/downhill walking as this is not the typical flat terrain of Louisiana. J.C. “Sonny” Gilbert WMA in Catahoula Parish features waterfalls and steep terrain that drops from 245 to 35 feet. There is even a trail to a 17-foot waterfall. The WMA also has many rare plant and animal species you may encounter. All the WMAs offer photographers outstanding picture opportunities while horseback riding is available on some of the WMAs and a few even have shooting ranges.
What Other Activities Take Place on WMAs?
Of course consumptive and non-consumptive use of WMAs is an important part of their existence. They’re designed to be used by citizens of the state and those visiting our great Sportsman’s Paradise. But equally important is the conservation and research mission on the WMAs. LDWF maintains critical habitats for species of concern, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker. At Sandy Hollow WMA in Tangipahoa Parish, the gopher tortoise, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, has a thriving population because of the work done there. Biologists keep the pine forests at Sandy Hollow thinned to allow sunlight to reach the ground and encourage growth of understory grasses and forbs vital to the gopher tortoise’s diet. Prescribed burns are used as well to manage understory vegetation and control hardwood brush. In addition, LDWF biologists worked to improve the habitat of WMAs in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, aiding the recovery of the Louisiana black bear, which was delisted as a threatened species in 2016. Those are only two of many examples of LDWF biologists’ work on WMAs to improve the health and overall well-being of animal and plant species naturally occurring in Louisiana.
In addition, there are many ongoing research permits issued to colleges, universities and other government agencies on LDWF WMAs. High school and college classes frequently convene at WMAs to learn more about Louisiana’s outdoors, with frequent presentations by LDWF biologists on management of the resources occurring on the WMA. Some WMAs are used during National Hunting and Fishing Day in September, a public outreach event held since the 1970s. Sherburne WMA’s Step Outside Day is usually held each May and is an education program with several outdoor activities for children and adults.
Is it Easy to Get to the WMAs?
Some are easier to access than others. Pass a Loutre, for instance, is accessible only via a boat ride down the Mississippi River. However, for most WMAs, users can drive to them from state and/or U.S. highways. On the WMAs, there are 1,850 miles of roads. There are also about 700 miles of ATV and ATV/UTV trails. Directions to each WMA can be found at www.wlf.la.gov/wma. Just click on the WMA you’d like to visit and you’ll see directions.
What’s the Best Way to Learn More About LDWF’s WMAs?
Check out the WMA page on the LDWF website at www.wlf.la.gov/wma. To keep up with the latest information on our WMAs, go to www.wlf.la.gov/signup for news and alerts on WMA activity. When registering, make sure to click the WMA button to receive releases and alerts pertaining to WMAs.
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