MYERS RETURNS TO THE WILD

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story by TREY ILES

A younger Randy Myers starting out at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries 23 years ago had a straightforward, uncomplicated career goal. He simply wanted to work in the field as a waterfowl biologist. With an undergraduate degree in wildlife from LSU, a masters in wetlands ecology from Southeastern Louisiana University and a passion for waterfowl resources, it seemed a perfect match.

But the people who mentored and shepherded the Franklinton, La., native in his formative years at the department saw he had skills beyond his collegiate area of expertise. They believed he had the ability to learn and master many of LDWF’s functions and to administer them in a way that would grow the goals and accomplish the mission of the department.

It’d be easier to list the jobs Myers hasn’t held at LDWF since he came to work here in 1993. From inland fisheries manager to coastal restoration projects, Myers, like a solid utility major league baseball player, has a good working knowledge of most aspects of the department.

That’s why Myers’ name was at the top of the list when Charlie Melancon, who became LDWF’s Secretary in January, sought an Assistant Secretary for Wildlife.

“It’s hard to find someone with the versatility that Randy possesses,’’ Melancon said. “The position of Assistant Secretary requires a person that not only has a grasp and mastery of the internal workings of the department but also someone who has been out in the field, implemented projects and programs and accomplished goals. Randy understands the natural resources of Louisiana and has strong relationships with department staff as well as our partners who help us protect those resources.’’

Myers’ career trajectory took a sharp turn his sophomore year at LSU. He began college with the intention of attending dental school. But he took an ‘Introduction to Fisheries’ class his sophomore year and that changed his mind and his major.

“I grew up hunting with my dad,’’ Myers said. “We were quail hunters. And we always enjoyed being in the outdoors, camping and fishing. We always enjoyed that. Before I took the (Introduction to Fisheries) class, I didn’t realize that a career as a wildlife and fisheries biologist was an option for me.’’

Myers jumped feet-first into his career, working as a student at LDWF. Counting that time, he has been at the department for 28 years.

“That gave me an understanding of what the department was about,’’ Myers said. “I started answering the phones and working odd jobs at the office. Then the last couple of years (while still in college), I moved into the field, working with the biologists.’’

Myers first position upon receiving his master’s degree was working with the forest stewardship program. It was a new initiative at LDWF and it was vital to his understanding of the importance of working with other departments, agencies and landowners, he said.

In his time at LDWF, Myers has served as the department’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act biologist and regional field biologist overseeing Pearl River WMA as well as working with the Deer Management Assistance Program. He has also worked as the regional biologist manager over southeast Louisiana, directed the land acquisition program and the WMA program.

“That was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had besides my waterfowl position,’’ Myers said. “I gained a lot of valuable experience, working with not only local entities but also state, federal and international agencies.’’

Four years ago, Myers moved to the inland fisheries department and became its director last year. It was a chance to learn something new, he said. But it has also helped him prepare for his new job as Assistant Secretary of Wildlife.
He said it fortified his belief in the importance of protecting habitat. That goal is at the top of his list as he is now in the seventh month of his new job.

“This is an important time where urbanization and coastal wetlands loss and other factors are having an impact on our wildlife resources across the state,’’ Myers said. “It is vital that we continue to work with our conservation partners and look at how we can conserve those resources moving forward. We have to strengthen our land acquisition program so we are providing more habitat that is protected in perpetuity. Our department can’t do it alone.’’

Myers said the April delisting of the Louisiana black bear from the Endangered Species Act is the perfect example of how protecting habitat can yield huge returns.

One of the reasons the animal was listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened 24 years ago was because of habitat loss and reduced quality of remaining habitat. Myers said he attributes the successful recovery of the bear to the many partnerships between LDWF, private landowners, conservation groups, universities and federal agencies.

“That’s the model we can look to moving forward; larger scale conservation efforts instead of concentrating on smaller scale issues,’’ Myers said. “I believe our state wildlife action plan has done a good job of identifying habitats that are imperiled. We have to make sure that the funding is available to help fund conservation efforts on both private and public lands.’’

Equally important is Louisiana’s ongoing battle in coastal restoration and the impacts of coastal wetlands loss, an issue with which Myers’ is well acquainted. During his master’s work, he looked specifically at restoration efforts for the bald cypress in the Manchac WMA.

Myers said when Melancon approached him about taking the Assistant Secretary for Wildlife position he realized it would be a big assignment.

But what eased his trepidation were the employees of LDWF. Like him, he said, they have a passion for what they do.
“I enjoy my job and it’s the same mindset of the people who work in this department,’’ Myers said. “They love what they do. And they realize we live in the nation’s greatest outdoors area, the Sportsman’s Paradise in Louisiana. You can do it all here.

“We have some challenges ahead, no question. But because of the pride we take in working for this department, we’re going to meet those head-on and be successful.’’

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