Sportsmen’s seasons and Calcasieu Lake oyster harvesters dominated most of Thursday’s Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting.
Spicing up what usually are routine approvals of several migratory bird seasons, the commission also debated a move to establish a three-man subcommittee to pursue legal action against the Legislature and, perhaps, Gov. Bobby Jindal over stripping more than $26 million from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Artificial Reef Development Fund Program. The Legislature’s move was part of taking more than $108 million from several state agencies — House Bill 477 was termed an “over collections fund” — and moving the monies into the state’s General Fund.
During the more than three-hour meeting, commission actions included:
• Approving migratory-bird seasons and bag limits for doves, teal, rails, gallinules and woodcock, all of which have the similar days as the 2010-11 seasons.
• Approving a Declaration of Emergency to reduce deer-hunting dates in the Atchafalaya Basin and on the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area after state biologists determined the adverse effects of recent flooding on these lands.
• Hearing a proposal from State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds that outlined another in a series of 60-day duck seasons.
The proposal would change the East Zone dates to a nine-day first split (Nov. 19-27) and a 51-day second split (Dec. 10-Jan. 29); West Zone splits running Nov. 12-Dec. 4 and Dec. 17-Jan. 22; and, changing the special youth-hunt weekends (for hunters 15 and younger) to Dec. 3-4 in the East Zone and Dec. 10-11 in the West Zone. This is a departure from a near decade-old plan that set these special youth hunts for the weekend before the season openers in both zones.
Reynolds also advised the LWFC that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will allow the state to change the state’s duck-season framework this year or next year from the now 30-year-old two zones, two splits in each zone to a three-zone package with two splits in each of the zones.
Reynolds said the only hang-up to proposing the latter move is “… monitoring what this change would mean to hunting in the state.” He said he and his staff have to outline what they are trying to accomplish by establishing three zones and how his staff would monitor those changes to determine if the goals are reached.
Reynolds said modifications would be made to the current East and West zones to carve out a new “coastal” zone. He said Catahoula Lake would be included in the West Zone to allow hunters to better hunt the early migrating ducks that find an early home on that central Louisiana lake.
“We have another year to make this change,” Reynolds said, adding that the USFWS would allow the state to retain the framework it has had the past five years and to make changes next year.
The 2010-11 season was the last in the most recent five-year package the USFWS allows to each state. Allowing another year to determine the state’s next five-year framework is a departure from usual migratory waterfowl regulations.
• Approving a notice of intent that would change the structure of the 2012 spring turkey hunting season. LDWF biologist Jimmy Stafford said a survey of hunters taken after this year’s season showed hunters favored later hunting dates in the northern parishes. The proposal creates North and South zones with the customary three areas in each zone. Final ratification of the seasons is set for the commission’s Nov. 3 meeting in Baton Rouge.
• Learning the effects of bills passed in this year’s legislative session on the LDWF, including a change in the amount of lifetime license fees held in the LDWF’s Lifetime Endowment Trust Fund, boating laws with regards to underage drinking and reckless operation of watercraft, vessel monitoring systems, nighttime trapping and hunting of feral hogs, the establishment of the MC Davis Conservation Fund and new regulations for leases on the department-owned and managed White Lake Property in southwest Louisiana.
• Learning details of Louisiana Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment plans for spending $100 million from the initial BP down payment of $1 billion into the multi-state, multi-agency restoration fund.
Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority attorney Drue Banta said the state’s benefit of the $1 billion could total as much as $600-$650 million because Louisiana had sustained more damage from the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill than any of the five Gulf of Mexico states. Banta said the first restoration plans should be available for public comment sometime in the fall.
• Acting on Act 329 of this year’s legislative session, the LDWF established rules for issuing permits for taking oysters in Calcasieu Lake. The act limits commercial harvest to 126 permits — 63 from traditional harvesters and 63 from new operators — on a first-come, first-served basis. Public comment will be taken on the issue through Sept. 1.
• Learning that Enforcement Division agents issued 1,323 citations and 565 written warnings in June, and that Senior Agent Toby Meyers was named the state’s Boating Officer of the Year.