Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham is no stranger to Union Parish. As a Louisiana Senator, he represented the parish and others for years. He even says that what he learned in this area during his lifetime helped prepare him with the wildlife and fisheries knowledge that allows him to do his job today. He still lives in Oak Ridge when he isn’t in Baton Rouge.
Sec. Barham spoke to the Farmerville Lions Club Thursday and gave an overview of his department. But first, he cleared up what is probably a common misconception.
“This isn’t a job where you just get to hunt and fish all the time,” he said. “In fact, I don’t get to hunt nearly as much as most people do.”
I once teased him about getting this “cushy” job where he just had to count the state’s fish and wildlife. Robert’s tour as Chief of the Division has been anything but a cakewalk, though. After having to deal with the aftermath of three major hurricanes, a flood that saw the Atchafalaya spillway opened only for the second time in history, and the world’s largest oil spill, Robert still doesn’t think that “cushy” line is funny.
“Protecting and enhancing the state’s wildlife and fisheries is a constant battle,” he said. “One thing we face up in this part of the state is that most folks down south of I-10 think we are in Arkansas. But the state is blessed with the finest outdoor resources in the country.”
One part of the job we don’t think a lot about is the financial end, but Robert obviously does.
“When you hear about government agencies not spending your tax money wisely, that isn’t us,” he said. “We operate strictly off the money we get from licenses and permits and from oil and gas royalties on land owned by the Department. We raise every dime of our money. When I took over, we were one year from being in the red. We had to do a lot of cutting, a lot of changing, but when I hand this baton over next year, projections show we will be in the black for four years.”
He is also proud of the Department’s efforts to ensure as much property as possible can be saved and purchased for public use. Two examples are Bussey Brake and Wham Brake and the large expansion of wildlife management areas like the Ouachita Refuge. Another big land deal is coming in north Louisiana in the coming months.
Robert said one reason the Department was able to do that is because everybody that works there wants to be there. They grew up with a dream of working on the water or in the woods with fish and wildlife. It’s a great group of people. People like Mike Wood and Jimmy Anthony. “We got them from up here and this is still home”, he says. ” Mike just retired and moved back to West Monroe. Jimmy still hunts here in Union Parish.”
One piece of advice he has for people who have young children or grandchildren: “Buy them a lifetime hunting and fishing license. It’s one of the best deals anywhere. For a few hundred bucks, they can hunt and fish the rest of their lives. And if they move off, it will give them a good reason to come back and visit you so you can take them hunting and fishing. If you don’t, you’re double stupid. I can assure you that when I’m gone, these prices are going to go up. Way up. Mark that down.”
And speaking of gone, Barham had 203 days left according to his calculations. The Secretary’s job is a political appointment and even though it is a real job (unlike some of those appointments), it usually changes hands with a new Governor, which we will have next January.
Robert is looking forward to that, though. He wants to spend more time with family and really getting to hunt and fish.
He even rode by the house for a while and spent a few minutes enjoying the view of the lake and the quiet before heading back to BR.
And he laughed and reminded me, “Remember about 10 years ago when you said you were going to move to D’Arbonne and when I retired, we were going to spend the day fishing? Well, that day is not far away,” he said. “I’m coming to Lake D’Arbonne and catch some of those white perch. You better be ready.”