The Wild Side for Feb. 17, 2013

Conservation Week started in our state this weekend with CCA-Louisiana’s state convention.

This coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the Louisiana Wildlife Federation will convene its 74th annual convention in Baton Rouge.

The state’s two largest volunteer organizations are closer today as any time in the past two decades. Both groups debated or will discuss the issues of the state’s noncompliant stand on federally mandated recreational red snapper seasons and limits and the state’s continued raid on the Artificial Reed Fund.

Friday evening’s CCA Hall of Fame dinner welcomed Baton Rouge’s Bob Bush and Acadiana’s Ted Beaulieu Sr. and Bill Bass into its hall.

Saturday night in Baton Rouge, the LWF will honor its 2013 Conservationists of the Year class.

For CCA and LWF, Saturday’s top name is John Walther, a CCA volunteer who’s headed up efforts to build a dozen inshore artificial reefs across south Louisiana with as many as six more reefs on the drawing board. Walther will receive a handsome carving of an eagle, the LWF’s symbol for its Conservationist of the Year.

That wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago, not when nerves still were frayed after the anti-gill net battles across the state and in the Legislature during the mid 1990s. The leadership of the two groups were on opposite sides of the issue, and that contentious relationship continued for more years than the two groups needed it to linger, not when there were serious problems that needed solutions only the combined efforts of the two groups could produce.

Walther, the unassuming, hard-working man from Thibodaux, likely wouldn’t admit it, but his efforts might be the bridge that brings these two vital groups together to work on a considerable number of outdoors issues facing our state and region.

Among them is monies coming to the state from the RESTORE Act, to make sure those many millions are spent where they will do the most good (and not where politicians can sock away the most votes); backing the state’s move for regional fisheries management in the Gulf of Mexico; working with the Legislature to stop continued funneling of what most folks consider to be protected funds into the state’s General Fund; and equally as important, finding a way to build more fishing piers in freshwater and saltwater locations around the state.

The buzz

The annual push at CCA state conventions focuses on building the group’s strength across Louisiana, but that’s not the main topic here.

The undercurrent is the state’s recent affirmation to defy the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s recreational red snapper plan. That Feb. 7 decision coming from the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission made regional and national headlines, and will charge fisheries issues not only among the five Gulf States but among the country’s other seven fisheries councils.