THERE’S NO PASSING IT UP
It’s Tough to Get There But Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area Is Worth the Trip
story by TODD BAKER, LDWF Biologist Director
If you’re an avid outdoorsman, Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is your Disney World, the ultimate destination for hunting, fishing or simply communing with nature.
Located at the mouth of the Mississippi River in extreme southern Plaquemines Parish, Pass-a-Loutre is one of the most unique WMAs on the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ (LDWF) roster.
The only access to the WMA, which is 12 miles from the nearest road, is by air or water. That usually means traversing the Mississippi River. River navigation involves negotiating international ship traffic and large domestic supply vessels in combination with often hazardous conditions such as rough water and dense fog.
While getting there can certainly be a challenge, it’s one of the reasons why Pass-a-Loutre is so extraordinary.
The solitude of this WMA, along with the unique habitats it provides, attracts a number of wildlife and fish species.
You’ll see many of the same species that are common in Louisiana as well as guests from foreign lands such as frigate birds soaring high above. A simple bass fishing trip that you can take anywhere in Louisiana can quickly be interrupted by a furious battle with a hungry jack crevalle or bull redfish that has decided to venture into fresher waters from the adjacent Gulf of Mexico.
For the avid sportsman, few places can provide the abundance and diversity of game to pursue. It is common on this piece of the Sportsman’s Paradise for hunters to harvest a limit of ducks and even bag larger game such as deer or hogs.
The sunsets are spectacular, and the remoteness of the property provides serenity that you’ll not experience in many other places.
Pass-a-Loutre is the oldest WMA owned by LDWF. In 1921, the Louisiana Legislature designated Pass-a-Loutre as a state shooting ground managed primarily for wintering waterfowl. This establishment of public land to be managed for public hunting was one of the first of its kind in the nation.
The name Pass-a-Loutre is a colorful reminder of the French influence on the region and of the early settlement of Louisiana. Pass-a-Loutre means Pass of the Otter. This translation is also a reminder of Louisiana’s fur trade which was of national importance in the 18th and 19th centuries.
At 115,000 acres it is also the second largest WMA in the department’s inventory. It encompasses the muddy water of the Mississippi River Delta, including two of the three river passes where the Mississippi River ends and Head of Passes begins. The Mississippi is the largest river delta system in the world and is the most important navigational route in the United States.
Because of its location, Pass-a-Loutre is a unique combination of a large deep river surrounded by shallow fresh and intermediate fringe marsh that immediately joins the deep salty waters just off the continental shelf of the Gulf. It’s littered with canal banks created by dredging disposal from mineral development and navigational dredging.
The dominant vegetation on the WMA is roseau cane. There are a few woody species such as black willow, lantana and elderberry. The WMA has a wide diversity of submerged aquatics which are dominated by a variety of pondweeds and Eurasian watermilfoil.
The WMA is host to a high diversity of fish, ranging from freshwater fish such as bass and catfish to estuarine species of redfish, specked trout and flounder, and provides access to reef fish and pelagics such as red snapper, mangrove snapper, yellowfin tuna and others.
This unique combination also makes it one of the most productive habitats for wildlife. Pass-a-Loutre is the genetic origin of much of the state’s and country’s white-tail deer herds as well.
In the 1960s, LDWF trapped several hundred deer on the WMA and transported them throughout the state and country to reestablish extirpated herds. During this time, the department used helicopters and planes to locate deer, then airboats and marsh motorcycles were advised of the locations and moved in to herd and catch the deer.
Once captured, the deer were transported to a nearby tug and barge to be loaded onto crates and transported up the Mississippi River to trucks bound for their final destination. This program was discontinued in 1969 after the landfall of Hurricane Camille impacted a significant portion of the deer habitat on the WMA.
Pass-a-Loutre is also the terminal end of the Mississippi Flyway, and several hundred thousand waterfowl, shorebirds and secretive marsh birds winter there annually.
It has historically been and continues to be a high quality waterfowl hunting area. The WMA is usually among one of the top hunting destinations in the state for public hunting success. This is because of minimal hunting pressure primarily due to the logistics involved in accessing and hunting the property as well as its quality waterfowl habitat. Top species harvested include gadwall, northern pintail, canvasback and blue-wing and green-wing teal.
Management of Pass-a-Loutre continues to focus on some of the same principles on which it was founded - to provide optimal habitat for wintering waterfowl.
Waterfowl management practices include chemical treatment of noxious vegetative species and implementation of restoration projects. Restoration projects on the WMA are designed to place dredge spoil at desired elevations to promote the growth of targeted vegetative species such as delta duck potato, freshwater three-square and wild millet.
Other important projects seek to increase the input of fresh sediment-laden riverine waters into shallow water areas to promote delta splay, or outward, growth. That, in turn, will promote the growth of emergent species, plants that are taller than surrounding vegetation, and desired submerged, or partially submerged species such as pond weeds, watermilfoil and coontail.
And they’ve been highly successful. In fact, LDWF commemorated in November the 30-year anniversary of three crevasses it created at Pass-a-Loutre to restore land. The project came in under budget and exceeded expectations.
Known as the Pass-a-Loutre Marsh Creation Project and the Louisiana Crevasse Project, it was a cooperative endeavor agreement between the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Plaquemines Parish and LDWF. Budgeted for $300,000, it cost only $88,060 to construct. That equated to $115.87 per acre created in 1986, which is translated to $252.44 per acre in 2016.
The once open bay now hosts a mosaic of habitats, including tidal mudflats, emergent fresh marsh and woody vegetation. It has provided estuary habitat for larval marine fisheries, freshwater fish, a variety of migratory and resident birds, nesting habitat for alligators and habitat for terrestrial mammals such as white-tailed deer and rabbits.
LDWF staff pioneered this restoration technique more than 55 years ago when it made cuts into the spoil banks of the river. These cuts allow the sediment-laden water to flow into interior marshes and ponds. Over time, the sediment builds up and begins to return open water areas to healthy freshwater marsh.
This natural process of land creation comes at virtually no cost once the cut has been made and allows for a natural gradient of marsh to form. Having a marsh slowly recreate itself with varying elevations allows for more diversity in the species that use this habitat.
Projects like these at Pass-a-Loutre are implemented by various organizations for navigational needs and mitigation projects or through state and federal sponsored restoration programs.
Several research and monitoring projects are also ongoing on the WMA. The department continues to conduct and promote research on the WMA to assist in the development of future management and restoration strategies.
Pass-a-Loutre hosts between 40,000 to 60,000 recreational users each year, with 35 percent coming from out of state.
Recreation combined with the demands of the navigation industry, oil and gas production, commercial fisheries and restoration creates competing interests for the use of the land and waterways on the WMA.
That’s where experienced Pass-a-Loutre staff comes in. Personnel carefully calculate each demand to be mutually beneficial or to create the least amount of disruption to other interests. Their knowledge of the area and expertise are what help to keep Pass-a-Loutre pristine.
Management techniques on Pass-a-Loutre are uniquely difficult to implement because it isn’t easy to get there. Most construction projects involve specialized equipment such as marsh buggies, barge-mounted excavators, specialized equipment boats and tug boats to haul equipment and supplies.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT PASS-A-LOUTRE WMA
• Pass-a-Loutre WMA encompasses 115,000 acres in southern Plaquemines Parish at the mouth of the Mississippi River. It is approximately 10 miles south of Venice, La., and is owned by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
• Access is by boat only. The nearest public launches are in Venice.
• Waterfowl and other migratory game bird, rabbit, deer and hog hunting are permitted on Pass-a-Loutre.
• Fresh and saltwater fishing are available at the WMA. Freshwater species include bass, bream, catfish and crappie. Saltwater species include redfish, speckled trout and flounder.
• Other forms of recreation available include boating, picnicking, nature study, crabbing and camping. There are multiple campgrounds on Pass-a-Loutre that are available for tent-camping and one designated area for the mooring of recreational houseboats.
• For more information, call 504-284-5264 or go to http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wma/2786 .
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