Joe Herring Had A Front Seat And An Active Part In The History Of Sportsman’s Paradise
story by Trey Iles, LDWF Public Information
Bears love bacon. Eastern wild turkey should be transported only one to a storage cage. And a personal touch is always best.
Joe Herring didn’t pick up these nuggets of wisdom in a classroom. These are things he learned in the field – trial and error as it were - during his 40-plus year career working with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. There are so many more.
Louisiana can thank Herring for helping to give the state its proud reputation as the Sportsman’s Paradise. From his work as a field biologist in the 1950s to running LDWF as secretary from 1992-96, Herring’s story is unique.
“He’s done it all,’’ said Kell McInnis, a former LDWF secretary who now leads the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation (LWFF). “I’m not sure you’d be able to find anyone who has made similar contributions, seen Louisiana’s wildlife history unfold and taken such an active role inside and outside of the department.’’
The 88-year-old, who has been retired from LDWF for 21 years, continues his love of working with wildlife.
What Herring has accomplished in Louisiana is impressive. Though he’ll tell you there were plenty of people making the proper wheels turn in the process, Herring had a hand in many of LDWF’s success stories, especially helping to restore many of Louisiana’s treasured wildlife species.
When Louisiana’s white-tailed deer population declined to dangerous lows in the 1950s, Herring helped bring it back to healthy numbers, especially in northern areas of the state. In the 1960s, Herring and LDWF colleagues began a project to trap black bear from Minnesota and relocate them to Louisiana to preserve the species. That’s when he learned bacon is great bait for black bears.
It was while trapping turkey to rebuild Louisiana’s population that he and his fellow workers learned that it is mandatory to include only one per crate. “At first, we’d put two in the same cage,’’ Herring said. “When we got to our destination, we had none. Both had died and it wasn’t pretty.’’
And the list goes on - the alligator, the brown pelican, and the bald eagle. Herring was instrumental in helping to make sure those species returned to healthy numbers in Louisiana.
You could say he was almost too successful with the state’s beaver population - so much so that today the species is considered a nuisance.
The beaver was in serious decline in the 1940s because its pelt was highly valued by fur traders. Through the work of Herring and other LDWF biologists in the 1950s, the animal quickly recovered and, today, flourishes – a little too much – in the state.
“We don’t talk about them now like the alligator and the black bear and the pelican,’’ Herring said. “They’re a nuisance now. But I’m still proud we brought the beaver back.
“One thing I’m also proud of is the hard work of so many people (at LDWF) to bring back those species. I feel like they don’t get near the credit they deserve. To see how much of their lives they put into that and the good it did, that’s not recognized enough.’’
Herring’s knowledge of wildlife and fish were certainly important in the work he did, he said. But perfecting how to treat humans was equally crucial. That’s something he learned from his youth, growing up in north Louisiana during the Depression and World War II, then through his years working with LDWF.
“You have to face people,’’ Herring said. “You can’t do it on the phone. You can’t do it in an e-mail. You have to go one on one and find out what the problem is. Nine times out of 10 you don’t have a problem that can’t be fixed. Learning where the common ground is helps to solve so many problems.’’
Herring was born in Ruston, raised in Shreveport and graduated from Louisiana Tech in May 1949 with a wildlife management degree. He was offered a job with LDWF after he graduated but was told he couldn’t start until October.
Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, however, offered him a job that he could start right away. So he went to Alabama to work as a farm/game research leader near Auburn.
A couple of years later, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was sent to Ft. Sill in Oklahoma where he put his wildlife degree to work managing fish ponds. He also worked at the nearby Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
After his stint in the Army, he returned to Alabama where he was able to learn from some of the top wildlife biologists at the time, including Dr. Homer Swingle, a renowned fisheries professor at Auburn University.
“I’m a watcher,’’ Herring said. “You learn by watching. When I was in Alabama, we’d go do research work on the Tombigee River. (Dr. Swingle) would take his classes out and they’d camp and do their work there. I believe even today, even with all the technology we enjoy, the best way to educate and learn is by doing it hands on out there.’’
In 1954, Herring and his wife, Rosalie, became homesick for Louisiana. So he applied for a job with LDWF and was hired, beginning on Jan. 15, 1955.
He had the same job as a farm/game researcher initially. But it wasn’t long before he was promoted to management. By the end of 1955, he became the District II Supervisor, located in Monroe.
He held that post from 1955 to 1962, and during that time launched the wildlife education program. An avid photographer and writer, he penned many stories for the Conservationist and took numerous photos.
From 1962 to 1971, he became LDWF’s Fish and Game Chief then the Chief of the Game Division from 1971 to 1979. In 1979 and 1980, he was assistant secretary for wildlife then left the department for a short time in a consulting position.
He returned as Assistant Secretary for Wildlife in 1984 and held that position until 1992, when former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards named him LDWF Secretary, a post he held until he retired in 1996.
Herring thought it important to branch out, too. In addition to his daily responsibilities, he was active in many national and international wildlife organizations.
“I was a little different than some other guys in wildlife,’’ Herring said. “I got active in the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. I stayed active in the Wildlife Society. I was executive secretary/treasurer of (the Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies). It’s important to keep up with other biologists from other states and nations. That’s how you learn and can improve upon what you do.
“And I always found that simply sitting down with a cup of coffee and visiting with people was a good way to learn.’’
Herring said he came to work at LDWF at a good time. Shortly after World War II, the department was increasingly relying on the scientific work of its biologists to guide policy and procedure.
“Guys like Richard Yancey, John Newsome, Raymond Moody, Jamie Kidd, Carroll Perkins—those guys were the backbone of setting up a scientific program in wildlife,’’ Herring said. “They were the guys who got our department started on a good biological basis. I was with what you would call that second tier. The foundation was already put in place.’’
Herring said science has always guided his work. That was certainly the case in the recovery of several species in Louisiana, such as the alligator.
Herring is widely credited for his work in restoring the white-tailed deer population in north Louisiana. In fact, in a 2014 story by Louisiana outdoors writer Glynn Harris, whose father worked at LDWF, Herring is heralded for his role in this effort.
“Herring was heavily involved in deer trapping in areas with deer and relocating deer to areas with good habitat but no deer,’’ Harris wrote. “Joe Herring can rightly be given credit for getting the deer population up and running in north Louisiana by releasing deer in, among other locations, Lincoln Parish.’’
Ruston, Herring’s hometown, is located in Lincoln Parish and he said he’s proud he was able to bring the species back to abundant levels.
“When I was growing up, Lincoln Parish didn’t have any deer,’’ said Herring, who was at one time the deer study leader, among his many LDWF jobs. “We really started the deer trapping program in the 1950s. We carried it on for 10 or 15 years until we got the state restocked.’’
Part of the problem was overhunting of the species, and a Depression mentality of killing to feed your family was a reason as well, he said.
Herring said the comeback was due to a combination of factors, including good science, prime habitat, public acceptance and enforcement.
“I used to go to a lot of meetings when we’d talk about deer,’’ Herring said. “I’d say how many in here are younger than 40 years old. I’d tell them you folks think we always had deer but we didn’t.”
Herring was also part of the eastern wild turkey trapping program in the 1950s to help restore that species’ population. He said that’s where making and building relationships with biologists and personnel from other state agencies paid off.
“We had some turkeys in the state, in Morehouse Parish and in the Felicianas, that we could move,’’ Herring said. “But we also swapped some marsh deer with Florida for some turkeys. We got some from Alabama. Some from Mississippi. We brought them in from other places for breeding purposes, to bring in new blood.’’
Setting appropriate hunting seasons was a key in the restoration process as well. And that, at times, caused problems back then, Herring said.
When hunting seasons are set now, there can be consternation with the public. Usually, however, it’s civil with nothing more than perhaps voices being raised. But Herring remembers a time when LDWF personnel were threatened with violence.
“We had a lot of problems back then (in the 1950s),’’ Herring said. “People weren’t as educated then. If they weren’t happy with us, they’d deliberately do things to our vehicles like smashing our headlights or putting sand in the gas tank.
“We had one meeting where they pulled knifes on us and we had to leave.’’
But there were other times where he went into a potentially hostile situation and ended up making friends. Sometimes it helps to bring family along, too.
He recalls once incident in the 1960s when a man in Livingston Parish was in a serious squabble with the department about a dam he wanted to build. The issue became so contentious that nobody at LDWF wanted to deal with him, Herring said.
Even though it wasn’t technically in his shop, Herring said he decided to go to the man’s house one Saturday morning and discuss the dam. His youngest daughter, Jan, asked if she could tag along and Herring agreed.
Herring went to the front door, introduced himself to the man’s wife and asked if he could speak to him. The man came to the door and invited Herring in. Herring told him he had his daughter in the truck and asked if she could come in.
“She was about 9 or 10 at the time,’’ Herring said. “And the guy said, ‘Sure, bring her in. We’re having a birthday party in the backyard and she’s welcome to join everyone.’ Well, we got to talking, and everything worked out. They invited us to stay and have lunch and before you know it, it was 8 p.m. and we were still visiting and having a pleasant time. My wife was worried to death when we didn’t get back home until about 9 or 9:30 that night.’’
Herring said he used that story often when mentoring his employees and others at LDWF. His ability to relate to people also came in handy when dealing with the Louisiana’s political process, too, he said.
There were many times as secretary and assistant secretary when he interacted with governors and other elected officials and calmly discussed whatever issue needed to be addressed.
“Dealing with people personally is so important,’’ Herring said. “We’ve kind of lost that personal touch but it’s invaluable even today.’’
A Decorated Career
Herring has a vast collection of wildlife photographs he’s taken through the years. Those sit alongside the numerous awards he’s won. Among them are the Louisiana Wildlife Federation’s Governor’s Award for Conservationist of the Year and the Louisiana Outdoor Writer’s Association’s Arthur Van Pelt Award, given to an individual who has a career record of achievement and dedication to conservation.
Herring said he’s honored to have been recognized by so many organizations. He said all that is nice. But those awards and plaudits mean little unless the public knows about what LDWF is doing.
“I’ve been in every state and I would put up our department with any other in the United States,’’ Herring said. “One thing I always pushed was information and education with our department. That is so important. You can do all these great things. But if John Q. Public doesn’t know about it then what good is it? My message was always let people know about the good work being done here.’’
Joe Herring said being out in the field was vital as he learned how to manage Louisiana’s wildlife resources.
One of the species that Joe Herring (left) helped restore was Louisiana’s white-tailed deer population.
Left: As a biologist, Joe Herring said good science drove his decisions. Right: Herring (third from left) at the LDWF headquarters ground-breaking ceremony.
Joe Herring served as a field biologist and the LDWF Secretary, and just about everything else in between, during his tenure with the department.
Herring, who has been retired from LDWF for 21 years, continues his love of working with wildlife.
In addition to his expertise in wildlife biology, Joe Herring was a talented photographer and writer, penning many stories for the Conservationist
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