Hunting leases attract big bucks

New leases on prime state-owned White Lake duck hunting and agriculture property should result in $5 million in additional dollars raised for wildlife preserve upkeep over the life of the contracts.

Some of the old lease holders lost out and some new players are in the mix as the state sought public bids on various tracts of 71,000 acres of marsh in Vermilion Parish.

“It’s a significant increase,” said Robert Barham, state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries secretary.

Barham said the extra dollars raised by accepting no less than fair market value for the tracts will help the state preserve the valuable habitat.

BP Amoco donated the property to the state in 2002 under Gov. Mike Foster.

The initial set-up for a potential politically-influenced board to manage the prime property attracted criticism.

Management was then shifted to the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Old leases with Amoco that expired generated $335,632 annually for the state.

The new leases will bring in $506,000 more annually.

The world-class duck hunting the property provides drove the bidding, which “exceeded the value” placed on the land by economist Jim Richardson, said Jimmy Anthony, Wildlife and Fisheries Department assistant secretary.

“How much is hunting worth to you? Some people say it is priceless,” Anthony said.

The successful bidders also must continue the rice and crawfish farming as well as other agricultural uses of the land, Anthony said.

The agricultural ventures attract the waterfowl, he said.

Meanwhile, the managing partner of two groups said excitement over winning proposals has been tempered of late as “disaster struck” affecting agriculture and waterfowl hunting on the land.

Baton Rouge attorney John Jewell Pace said a lawsuit will be filed Friday alleging the groups’ ability to use the land has been impaired as the result of a barge accident that damaged the Leland Bowman Lock at Vermilion Bay.

Pace said he will be joined by Plaquemine attorney Patrick Pendley in filing the class action lawsuit.

Salt water is intruding into the canals, ditches and Intracoastal areas from which property owners pump the fresh water to irrigate, he said.

“It’s going to cost Pine Island (Conservation) and Fender (Conservation) the potential to be able to farm rice, crawfish besides hunt,” said Pace.

“We are in a very tough situation,” he said.

Pace is managing member of the newly-formed Fender Conservation and Pine Island Conservation that were among the winning bidders on the tracts.

Fender bid $63,000 annually for one tract and Pine Island $232,000 for another.

The groups had advertised seeking new members to join them who were interested in hunting on the property, Pace said.

“We were reviewing several applications from people desiring to hunt. We were preparing to accept some new members when disaster struck,” he said.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries already advised property owners that salt water intrusion has become an issue.

“Any opening of intake pipes, flooding of fields, and/or pumping-on of any water will require prior approval from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries,” according to a memo from agency biologist Schuyler Dartez.

Fender and Pine Island are among the new players in the White Lake leases.

Pace declined to name other partners.

“We are going to the best of our ability increase the focus on conservation,” Pace said.

Prior leaseholders submitting winning proposals include Greg Kung, of Houston, paying $200,000 annually for one of the larger tracts.

Other returnees include Cajun Chef Products Inc., represented by Andrew P. Bulliard, St. Martinville; Lafayette Steel Erectors Inc., J.B. Prudhomme as managing partner, Gueydan; and Fournerat Farms Partnership and Fournerat Hunting Club, with Logan C. Fournerat listed as managing partner.

Anthony said no protests were filed over the bids although those losing leases were “disappointed they didn’t get it.”

Some of those who have been farming the land may end up doing the same thing for the new lease holders who may not want to get into the agricultural business, Anthony said.