In recent years, Louisiana’s coastal management agencies have been rightfully and singularly focused on the restoration of our coastal resources. Moving beyond restoring what’s broken or damaged, we’ve seen the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, in its own right, take a long, hard look at how it can provide for wildlife, education, public recreation and economic development. Did I just say “economic development?” Absolutely. As the owner and operator of 1.6 million acres of land across the state, there is no doubt that this agency contributes to Louisiana’s economy in multiple and sizable ways.

Wildlife tourism is big business in Louisiana. A report released by Datu Research estimates annual wildlife related spending “including wildlife viewing, hunting and fishing” across the state of Louisiana at almost $2 billion. And that number only represents the related tourism or visitor expenditures. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries contributes even more to the state’s economy through activities such as the sustainable harvest of timber on its lands and the regulated collection of alligator eggs for commercial uses, both of which provide jobs for Louisiana citizens.

Like other state agencies, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is looking to the future to support our economy. However, the demographics and preferences of Louisiana’s public land users are changing. Younger generations are less connected to the outdoors than their elders, resulting in fewer visitors to our wild lands. To address those trends, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries took a step back and made a significant and wise decision to evaluate how it best protects, manages, restores and provides access to Louisiana’s diverse natural habitats. The Master Plan for Wildlife Management Areas and Refuges (which Joe Macaluso reported on in his Nov. 9 column), announced earlier this month at the monthly meeting of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, offers Louisiana an important framework to guide future land conservation outcomes to meet the needs of our growing green economy as well as the citizens, birds, fish, animals, plants and ecosystems of the Bayou State.

Through the implementation of its 2014 Master Plan, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will serve the citizens of our state in multiple ways. It will continue to provide for the protection of fish and wildlife, while seeking to provide all age groups of people greater access to its natural areas. And the methodical, yet sustainable, management of those natural areas will ensure that wildlife tourism, as well as natural resource based-business, continue to be thriving components of Louisiana’s economy.

Ray Herndon

director, Lower Mississippi & Central Gulf Region, The Conservation Fund