Then & Now -- There’s More To What LDWF Manages, Oversees Than Just Hunting And Fishing

by TREY ILES, LDWF Public Information

If you’ve thumbed through this issue of the Louisiana Conservationist and perused the stories, it’s obvious the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is more than hunting and fishing. Of course, regulating those sports is a key pillar in LDWF’s mission.

The LDWF Enforcement Division is tasked with making sure everyone complies with the rules and regulations set forth. More than 709,000 anglers are licensed to fish in the Bayou State and more than 326,000 hunters to enjoy whatever game they pursue. Making sure these hunters and anglers follow the rules is vital.

But equally important to LDWF is conservation of habitat and all wildlife, not just game species. It’s an enormous job but one LDWF biologists and employees are passionate about.

The story of the gopher tortoise several pages ahead is an example of how LDWF biologists manage a threatened species as well as its habitat. The tortoise is found in the state’s easternmost Florida Parishes, Washington, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa.

Endangered species biologist Keri Landry is encouraged the gopher tortoise can thrive in those areas thanks to work to secure and improve habitat and because of partnerships with private citizens and timber companies.

LDWF is working to make the gopher tortoise, and its return, another successful restoration project.

Consider the other species that have been returned to abundant numbers, including the eastern brown pelican, the alligator, the bald eagle and the Louisiana black bear. Less than two years ago, the bear was delisted from Endangered Species Act as its numbers grew.

The alligator has thrived because of a painstaking commitment from LDWF that began in the early 1960s when it was estimated about 100,000 alligators were in Louisiana’s wild. Today, that number is conservatively estimated to be more than 2 million.

A sustained use model, called Marsh to Market, deserves most of the credit for the marked increase. The good news for Louisiana citizens is that the model pays for itself by generating revenue that allows LDWF to administer the program.

Another item of importance for LDWF is its 52 Wildlife Management Areas, which total more than 1.5 million acres. These lands are managed for the betterment of wildlife and habitat. More than 500,000 people visit LDWF WMAs annually and many of them are hunters and anglers. But not all.

About 2,300 miles of nature trails are maintained on WMAs. Many of the WMA visitors utilize these trails simply to enjoy the outdoors, whether it be bird-watching, hiking or attempting to spot wildlife. In fact, about 1 million wildlife watchers contribute approximately $585 million dollars on trips and equipment in local communities annually.

Bird watchers can view more than 450 species in Louisiana, including 69 which are species of conservation concern. Two – the pelican and bald eagle – are flourishing now after having their numbers diminished considerably. Bald eagle sightings are common and pelicans are seen everyday in coastal Louisiana.

Plant enthusiasts can see more than 3,200 plant species in Louisiana, 2,500 of them native, and 389 are species of greatest conservation need.

Fisheries biologists are busy on inland, coastal and offshore waters. There are 148 freshwater species in Louisiana, 27 which are considered critically imperiled. And there are about 400 fish species in Louisiana marine waters.

LDWF’s LA Creel program helps keep tabs on many those marine species in near real time with its innovative catch estimate survey.

In addition, inland fisheries biologists constantly battle nuisance vegetation, from giant salvinia to water hyacinth. In 2016, LDWF inland fisheries treated almost 68,000 acres of nuisance vegetation.

The LDWF Hunter’s Education program plays an important role in teaching gun safety and outdoor survival to the next generation of hunters.

And LDWF features many outreach programs, including ‘Get Out and Fish,’ which brings in new anglers of all ages.

So next time you see the LDWF emblem in Louisiana, remember its employees are providing recreational access, enhancement, maintaining natural habitats across the state, preserving non-consumptive species as well as enforcing the regulations. All those jobs are critical to ensuring Louisiana remains the Sportsman’s Paradise.