Coastal erosion to get some attention

Published 11:15 pm Sunday, January 6, 2008

OAK RIDGE, La. (AP) — Robert Barham said his father, Erle, instilled into him a deep appreciation of nature while he was growing up on the family’s Oak Ridge home place in Morehouse Parish.

‘‘My dad was the best amateur ornithologist I ever knew,’’ said Barham, 58, who was appointed last month as the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries secretary by Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal.

He will replace Bryant Hammett, D-Ferriday, who served as a state representative before being appointed to the position by outgoing Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

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When Barham was a boy, his father organized a group of Morehouse Parish landowners who established the Cooley Wildlife Refuge, which was once the biggest bird-banding site in Louisiana.

‘‘Some of the earliest research on wood duck boxes was done on that refuge,’’ he said.

Barham fished, hunted and explored the rivers, streams, lakes and woods of northeastern Louisiana as a teenager and later the entire state as an adult.

LSU Professor Leslie Glasgow, who was also once the assistant U.S. Interior secretary, tabbed Barham as one of a handful of LSU students who Glasgow allowed to work at Glacier National Park in Montana.

‘‘It was an amazing experience,’’ Barham said. ‘‘I was mentored by people like my dad and (Glasgow), who knew the importance of our natural resources.

‘‘That’s why I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do than this job.’’

Barham served three terms in the state Senate before accepting the Jindal appointment.

He received the 1999 Outstanding Legislator of the Year Award from the Louisiana Wildlife Federation and the 1999 National Award for Conservation of Natural Resources from the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Barham also has been honored with the John D. Newsom Award for Wildlife Stewardship.

‘‘Robert Barham has a great record of service to our state,’’ Jindal said. ‘‘I know he will preserve Louisiana’s incredible natural resources for those families who depend on them for their livelihood and for hunters, fishermen, outdoors enthusiasts, and current and future generations of Louisianians.’’

Barham, a Republican who still lives in Oak Ridge, said the two biggest issues facing the LDWF during the next four years are coastal restoration and controlling invasive aquatic vegetation in lakes and waterways.

‘‘We’ll be on the front lines of coastal restoration,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a huge project. It’s going to have an impact on fisheries, oyster leases, the environment but we have no choice. We have to do it.’’

He said that invasive aquatic vegetation threatens entire bodies of water, pointing to the Bonne Idee bayou in his home parish of Morehouse as an example.

‘‘There are times of the year when you can’t put a boat in the Bonne Idee and use it,’’ Barham said. ‘‘An egret could walk from one bank to the other without wetting its feet. And there are problems like that throughout the state.’’

Barham also said he wants to promote Louisiana’s bountiful populations of game and fish to young hunters and fishermen.

‘‘Our license sales have been in decline for 20 years,’’ he said. ‘‘Our society has changed from an agricultural-based community to one where many people are never exposed to the outdoors.

‘‘We have to use opportunities like the annual Wildlife and Fisheries days at our regional offices to show kids and their parents about the vast opportunities in Louisiana. We want the average boy and girl and man and woman to have a chance at quality hunting and fishing.’’

Barham said he will advocate adding to the state’s 1.5 million acres of Wildlife Management Areas, which offer public hunting.

‘‘We’re going to increase that acreage,’’ he said.

Barham said it’s unclear whether the state will move forward with a system that requires hunters to tag harvested deer. The system was to be put in place this year but was scrapped because of confusion.

‘‘This isn’t a system designed to write more tickets,’’ Barham said. ‘‘It has to do with providing the state more knowledge of the herd so that we can manage it properly. We don’t have a good way of knowing what’s out there or what hunters are harvesting.’’

Barham said the state’s game population is healthier than ever with the largest number of deer, turkeys, alligators and game fish in decades.

‘‘Even the alligator has made a remarkable comeback,’’ Barham said.

Barham said a growing black bear population might eventually lead to hunting those animals.

Barham said he has no intention of raising license fees or other costs, but he will advocate ‘‘for a stable source of revenue to adequately meet the department’s needs. We can do this by recognizing logical sources of revenue already in the state budget,’’ he said.