The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission has turned what should be a celebration for this month’s special teal season and the 60-day duck season into a contentious subplot.
The rancor from its August meeting, when the commission voted 4-2 for an early opening of the Coastal Waterfowl Zone — after a majority of that zone’s hunters asked for a later opening (that would have pushed the closing date later, too) — continued Thursday when it took another vote on ducks.
This time this issue is which of the three bidding groups would get the slightly more $300,000 the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries annually sends to enhance and preserve breeding grounds.
That alone demands an explanation: For 50 years, Louisiana has sent 10 percent of its hunting license fees to groups dedicated to keeping Canada’s duck-breeding prairies productive. The total now is $10 million, the most any state has donated.
For most of those 50 years, Ducks Unlimited got the money. To DU’s credit, it leverages that donation with a three-to-one match, pushing our state’s contribution to more than a million working dollars in areas that send waterfowl to our state.
This year, the groups put in their bids at the LWFC’s June meeting, and the commission charged the LDWF staff to review DU, Delta Waterfowl and United Prairie offerings.
Without going into great detail, the staff recommendation was that DU’s topped the list. Delta was second.
So, after the motion was made to send this pot of money to DU, the six men split the vote with “ayes” coming from Ronny Graham, Billy Broussard and Chad Courville, and Pat Manuel, Dan Davis and Bart Yakupzack voting “no.”
There’s supposed to be seven commission members, but the group is working a man short after Ed Swindell of Hammond resigned in August to take one of the state’s seats on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
Another motion to divide the money among the three, with DU getting a 75 percent share, ended in another tie with the three nays becoming ayes and the three ayes becoming nays.
There were a few more twists and turns in this story, not the least of which is that the commission asked the LDWF staff to forward an appeal to the state’s attorney general’s office for an opinion on how it can proceed with a pool of money that demands it be spent.
Can the money continue to flow to DU as it did last year, or can those dollars be held over until next year? There’s no question there’s an impasse: If you can follow this, the three “yea-then-nay” men are insistent they will back DU’s plan to the hilt, and the three “nay-then-yea” men believe Delta Waterfowl should get a crack to find out if their plans to work with Canadian farmers will work.
For now, the best solution lays squarely in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s lap. He needs to appoint someone to fill that seventh chair, and that can’t come too quickly.