Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries District 4 office closing

Published 12:32 am Sunday, September 6, 2009

LAKE CONCORDIA — After almost 50 years serving Concordia Parish, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries’ District 4 office is in the process of shutting down.

The office, located on Lake Concordia, is on schedule to close January 2010.

This will mean that anyone from Concordia Parish seeking things like alligator or deer management tags, as well as hunting and fishing licenses, will have to travel at least 60 miles to obtain them.

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“People will now have to drive to places like Pineville, La., which is about 60 miles away, or Monroe, La., which is about 90 miles away, to obtain these services,” said biologist manager John Leslie.

Leslie said the District 4 office has been in existence since 1960, and is in need of repair due to its age. The state Wildlife and Fisheries offices, located in Baton Rouge, told Leslie fiscal constraints are leading to the shutdown of the office.

“(Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries) Sec. Robert Barham said there’s not money in the budget for the major repairs this place needs,” Leslie said.

After the closure in January 2010, the employees of the District 4 office are supposed to be transferred to other branches within Louisiana.

Leslie said adjustments will have to be made, and things like tractors and 50 years of records will need to find a new home. He also said no one is supposed to lose their job “theoretically.”

“(However), as of right now, there is no place for Jackie Sikes, my secretary, to go,” Leslie said.

Sikes said the news of the office closing down was very surprising to her.

“In this economy, it’s a shock,” Sikes said. “I was hoping for more stability with a state job.”

Sikes also said the planned closure will be doing a great disservice to many local residents.

“What’s the public going to do?” Sikes said. “It’s not a good service to the public to drive (to Monroe or Pineville) for these services.

“Some people can barely make it here, because they’re farmers and workers who only have just enough time to come to our office.”

Not everyone in the District 4 office is as concerned. Lt. Russ Kiser, head of law enforcement for District 4, said all of his employees would remain at the Lake Concordia location. Instead of reporting to the Lake Concordia branch, they would report to Pineville.

“All my guys are field guys and will remain here,” Kiser said. “It’s going to rock on the same as it’s rocking on now.”

Others, however, are cautious in their optimism that the transition will go smoothly. Michael Ewing, biologist manager for the Inland Fish Division of District 4, said he plans to retire in January, but doesn’t know what the people who work under him will do.

Ewing said his bosses in Baton Rogue told him his employees could possibly work from home, but he explained to them that all the equipment they used would need to have storage. Ewing then said his bosses told him they should search for office and storage space.

“We found some office space in Vidalia, and they were going to let us use their town maintenance yard to store our equipment,” Ewing said. “But, for some reason, the higher-ups said no.”

Despite the current plans, Leslie expressed some hope that the shutting down could be avoided.

“We were originally supposed to close Sept. 18,” Leslie said. “When Sec. Barham was here (Aug. 28), that was the first time we knew he was considering postponement.

“Things are still in a very flexible, changing-daily status.”