The following archived news items are listed by date. For even older articles, scroll to the bottom of the page and select postings by month and year.
Questions (& Answers) for the New Governor
A year through her first term, Governor Blanco's administration has begun to address some of the conservation issues brought to her attention during last fall's election campaign. Notably, she supported resolving the White Lake controversy, acquiring Elmer's Island and amending the constitution to provide for the "Freedom to Hunt, Fish and Trap" as a basic right of citizenship in Louisiana. She has established a committee of scientists and advisors to recommend policy and programs to conserve coastal forests and has provided guidance to state agencies regarding the protection of public health from environmental contaminants. Her appointees to some key agencies are energetic, positive and an improvement from the prior administration. The following are questions posed by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation to Governor Blanco and the other candidates during the campaign for governor. A "right" answer is provided, although there may be more than one such "right" way to address the issues described. Conservationists will be watching to see how Governor Blanco's administration measures up as it proceeds to manage the affairs of the state. But for the first 12 months, so far so good.
COASTAL PROTECTION & RESTORATION
- The continued loss of our state's coastal wetlands and barrier shorelines is an environmental and community crisis. The Governor will make decisions that determine whether or not much of what we now know as South Louisiana survives. These decisions will affect every citizen in every community in the state.
What will you do to ensure that our state and nation take the steps necessary to protect and restore the treasure of coastal Louisiana - "America's Wetland"?
Answer: As a minimum, maintain the current state coastal restoration programs and the funding for the state?s share of the cost of coastal restoration projects while working with the Legislature to identify the sources of and secure the additional dollars the state will need to leverage sufficient federal support for coastal restoration. Collaborate closely with the members of the Louisiana Congressional Delegation to develop a team-building strategy to secure the support of other members of Congress for coastal restoration. Establish a relationship and liaison with the White House and the key administrators of the pertinent federal agencies to promote understanding of and achieve support for coastal restoration. Direct all state agencies to carry out the functions of the state, including highway and other public works projects, in a manner that is consistent with the Coast 2050 plan and seek additional statutory authority, as necessary, to direct such consistency from all subdivisions of government in Louisiana's coastal zone. Raise and maintain the profile of coastal restoration statewide and nationally through the Governor's participation in strategic events, negotiations and public discussions to advance the restoration of Louisiana?s coast.
- Logging of coastal swamp forests can accelerate the loss of coastal wetlands in areas where bald cypress and other swampland species cannot regenerate. Unsustainable forestry practices in coastal wetlands are counter-productive to the state's coastal restoration efforts.
Question.How will you encourage sustainable management of private coastal timber resources, consistent with the goals of Coast 2050 to restore and conserve Louisiana's coast, and can you suggest incentives or programs that might be effective in conserving coastal forests?
Answer: Advocate the use of best management practices by private forest owners. Working closely with the Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry and the Department of Natural Resources, identify those coastal forest lands that are important to the maintenance and restoration of coastal wetlands and negotiate a program to secure restrictions on tree removal on these lands, preferably on a voluntary basis. Explore the feasibility of establishing a coastal wetlands reserve program that would apply incentives and disincentives for owners of strategic coastal lands to maintain their lands in a manner that is consistent with the Coast 2050 plan.
DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
- In recent years there have been substantial, well documented problems at the Department of Environmental Quality that call into question just how well that agency is protecting the public and the environment.
Question.What steps will you take to restore confidence in DEQ and to ensure that it is able to, and in fact does, protect the health of our citizens and environment?
Answer: An advisory panel will be convened to review the findings and recommendations of the most recent task force on DEQ funding and efficiency, be briefed on the current status of the agency's programs and funding and take public input concerning ways to improve the agency's performance in protecting the quality of the environment, consistent with law and regulation. The panel will be comprised of representatives of the regulated community, good government organizations and citizen's environmental quality and conservation advocacy organizations. The recommendations of this panel on strengthening the performance of the agency will inform the direction the Governor gives to the DEQ secretary, the Governor?s budget request and legislative package for the agency.
- In the past several years, there have been incidences where citizens were not informed by DEQ or DHH about their exposure to hazardous substances. This prompted Governor Foster to issue an Executive Order on Environmental Contamination Notification. It requires agencies to notify citizens who may have been exposed to environmental contamination when such agency has sound scientific knowledge of environmental contamination that exceeds applicable federal and state health standards and may cause adverse health effects.
Question.Would you support legislation that implements this executive order, or issue a similar executive order?
Answer: It will be the policy of the administration to inform the public of a health hazard that is discovered by any division of state government. The current protocol for notification will be reviewed for sufficiency and revised as necessary so that such notifications are accurate and reach the affected community as soon as possible after the hazard is discovered.
- Inadequately treated effluent from individual sewage treatment systems contaminates streams and lakes with high fecal coliform counts and nutrients that risk the health of swimmers and degrades the water quality. Remarkably, these discharges are not regulated by the Department of Environmental Quality, even though it is required to do so by law.
Question.Will you direct the DEQ to establish and enforce a permitting program to control the off-lot discharge from individual sewage treatment systems?
Answer: Understanding that forcing poor and rural residents to comply with sewage discharge standards can be politically and economically difficult, the public health risks and water quality problems associated with the discharge of inadequately treated human waste makes it imperative that the state establish and achieve a 100% compliance goal within the next 4 years. The Departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Hospitals will be directed to cooperatively develop a plan to accomplish this goal and any additional funding or statutory authority needed will be included in the Governor's budget request and legislative package. DEQ will be directed to comply with federal law and regulation relative to permitting discharges from individual treatment systems and any other sewage discharges that the agency may not currently be regulating/permitting as required by law.
QUALIFICATIONS OF APPOINTEES
- Just as our governor must provide strong and effective leadership, so must the persons appointed to head state agencies. The secretaries of the Departments of Wildlife and Fisheries, Environmental Quality and Natural Resources, to a great extent, determine the policy, effectiveness and efficiency of their agencies. They should possess the educational background, administrative experience and vision to best serve the people of Louisiana.
Question.Specifically, what qualifications would you require of those individuals you appoint to run the Departments of Wildlife and Fisheries, Environmental Quality and Natural Resources?
Answer: An understanding of and commitment to the agency's constitutional and statutory functions and responsibilities, including the mandate of Article IX, Section I of the Louisiana Constitution to protect, conserve and replenish, insofar as possible and consistent with the health safety and welfare of the people, the natural resources of the state, including air, water and the healthful, scenic, historic and esthetic quality of the environment. Honesty, integrity, strong work ethic and leadership capabilities, energy and enthusiasm, excellent communication skills and ability to present and promote their agency?s functions in a way that wins the trust and support of the public, Legislature and agency employees. Prior experience and knowledge germane to the functions of their agency. An academic background pertinent to the agency's functions would be a plus.
MERCURY CONTAMINATION/AIR POLLUTION
- Mercury is a neurotoxin that has made its way into the food supply, contaminating fish and posing a risk to people and wildlife that eat fish. Air emissions from chlor-alkali plants and coal-fired power plants inside and outside the boundaries of Louisiana contribute to high levels of mercury in rainfall over our state. Mercury levels in Louisiana rainfall routinely exceed the human health standards for mercury in surface water. Mercury advisories for fish consumption were recently expanded to include 29 waterways in Louisiana, including the Gulf of Mexico. Children and the unborn are most at risk. In these advisories, the Department of Health and Hospital?s Office of Public Health recommends limiting consumption of all fish species to four meals per month. Perhaps more than any other, Louisiana is a state of fishers and fish consumers, and therefore the pollution of our fish is of particular concern.
Question.What will you do to curtail air emissions of mercury from the major emitters in Louisiana, and, since this is an air-borne problem, what will you do to support national pollution control programs that will reduce the emission of mercury nationwide?
Answer: Maintain funding for the Department of Environmental Quality's mercury program in the Governor's budget request and direct DEQ to review all permitted sources of mercury emissions and discharges in the state to determine compliance with current permits; investigate other sources contributing to mercury contamination in Louisiana waters and develop remediation plans for mercury hot spots; review permit standards for potential modification to reduce mercury discharges and emissions; negotiate, as appropriate, with mercury dischargers/emitters to reduce or eliminate discharges/emissions of mercury and work with the Louisiana Congressional Delegation and governors of other states to promote federal policy and regulations that are consistent with state efforts to reduce the availability of mercury in the environment and the contamination of fish and other organisms with mercury.
WATER CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT
- Our state is blessed with a great abundance of the natural resource that is indispensable to life, growth, and prosperity - fresh water. Until very recently, Louisiana viewed fresh water as a free, limitless resource that was there for the taking. We now know that our water resource is not limitless, and that if we do not have plans for our water resources, others, even those outside our state, do.
Question.What will you do to ensure that Louisiana is able to protect and manage its water resources in such a way as to ensure their sustainability?
Answer: The protection and sustainable management of Louisiana's ground and surface water resources are state priorities. Since the prolonged drought of a few years ago, Louisiana has made significant progress in developing a structure and process for managing groundwater resources. The further development of that structure and process by the Ground Water Management Commission and the Ground Water Advisory Task Force will be continued. The work of these groups should gradually expand to address plans for conservation, enhancement and beneficial use of surface waters so that there will be a sufficient supply of good quality water to support the state's ecosystem and agriculture needs as well as economic development.
WHITE LAKE - ACCOUNTABILITY IN MANAGING PUBLIC WILDLIFE LANDS
- By agreement with the Foster Administration, a private corporation has been given control and management authority over 70,000 acres of state-owned wildlife conservation land in Vermilion Parish known as the White Lake Property. This agreement also gave the private corporation the authority to expend revenues generated by the property without going through the normal legislative appropriation process, some say, contrary to law. The private corporation is not accountable to the public or any government entity for any action it takes in operating and managing this valuable public asset.
Question.What do you think about the concept of private control and management of state-owned wildlife conservation lands without a process for legislative oversight and accountability to the public? How will you work with the donor of the White Lake Property and the private management corporation that currently manages and operates the property to establish appropriate legislative oversight and public accountability for the management of the White Lake Property?
Answer: Private control and management of state wildlife conservation lands without a statutory provision for legislative oversight and a process for accountability to the public is contrary to prudent public policy and the obligation of the state to be a responsible steward of public trust resources. There is no precedent for such a model of public land management in Louisiana or anywhere else in the United States. The potential of this property for conservation-based education, research and public enjoyment cannot be realized under the current management structure and therefore the state will offer to negotiate an alternative management scenario with the donor and the private management corporation that will preserve the conservation purposes of the donation, realize the education, research and public use potential of the property, provide for the funding of the management and maintenance of the property and secure legislative oversight and public accountability for the management of the property.
ELMER'S ISLAND/HABITAT ACQUISITION
- During the prior administration, negotiations by the state to acquire 1700 acres of coastal barrier beachfront across Caminada Pass from Grand Isle in Jefferson Parish known as Elmer's Island for compatible recreational uses like fishing, camping and birding failed. This is one of the most popular habitat acquisition objectives in the history of the state's efforts to acquire land for public outdoor recreation; however, one of the issues that has surfaced with this and other recent habitat acquisitions, and one that could be an impediment to the opening of Elmer's Island as well as future acquisitions, is the question of funding the operation and maintenance of the property once it is acquired. Due to static funding, and other priorities, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is reluctant to take on the management of Elmer's Island as it apparently was to accept management responsibility for the White Lake Property, even though many believe DWF is the agency best suited for managing both properties.
Question.What are your ideas to address this impediment - funding for operation and maintenance - to the acquisition of wildlife conservation/recreation lands by the state, and will you renew state efforts to acquire and reopen Elmer's Island for pubilc recreation?
Answer: To a great degree, finding the funds to manage wildlife conservation and public recreation lands is a matter of priorities within the managing agency. The leadership of the agency, in collaboration with the Governor and Legislature, determines those priorities. In the 2004 Regular Session, the Legislature authorized sufficient funds to acquire Elmer's Island and it adopted a resolution urging that the acquisition be accomplished. Economic analysis indicates that fees collected from users of Elmer's Island will be sufficient to cover the operation and maintenance costs of the area. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is best suited to be the lead management agency for Elmer?s Island, although it may be beneficial for DWF to partner with other agencies and organizations to maximize efficiency and provide the greatest opportunity for the public and the most benefit to the natural resources of the area. Legislation will be filed to authorize the DWF to collect day use and overnight camping fees from the users of Elmer's Island. The Governor's budget request will include the allocation of Conservation Funds for the operation and management of Elmer's Island and efforts will be renewed to amicably negotiate the acquisition of Elmer's Island with the owner. DWF funding priorities will reflect a strong emphasis on the operation and management of public wildlife conservation lands.
- The natural resources and related activities managed by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Wildlife and Fisheries Commission have a tremendous positive economic impact on the state (estimated at over $2 billion annually). Although DWF has historically operated on user fees and other self-generated revenue such as mineral royalties from department-owned lands, severance taxes, rentals and dedicated federal funds, with little and usually no general fund support, the decline in mineral royalties from state wildlife lands coupled with greater demands for popular programs that generate little or no user fee revenue like Scenic Rivers, Natural Heritage, Urban/Backyard Wildlife, Education and Information, and the rising costs of other programs that have outstripped the modest license fees charged, threaten the agency's ability to maintain its functions and meet new demands. Allocating the state tax on marine fuels, a small percentage of the state sales tax, and general fund appropriation have been suggested as ways to help DWF meet its responsibilities to manage and conserve the state's fish and wildlife resources and the growing expectations of the public.
Question.Considering the great positive economic impact to the state of the natural resources and other activities managed by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, would you support a consistent general fund appropriation, user fee increases, a state sales tax dedication, marine fuels tax dedication, and/or other means of adequately financing the work of the LDWF?
Answer: SCR 19 of the 2003 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature establishes a study commission to develop a plan for achieving long-term, reliable funding for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. This commission will receive the full cooperation and support of the Governor's Office in developing its recommendations and those recommendations will be seriously considered, as appropriate, for inclusion in the Governor's legislative package. This commission should also consider means of funding the acquisition of habitat and the operation and maintenance of public wildlife conservation lands.
- Louisiana's near shore fisheries are more productive than any other state and far more productive than any other Gulf state. This is due to our vast system of wetlands and estuaries created largely by the dynamics of the world-class Mississippi River interacting with the Gulf of Mexico, fertile waters and warm climate. Although not immune to overexploitation, Louisiana has the luxury and the challenge of managing its fisheries at a high level of sustained productivity for both recreational and commercial users as well as the non-fishing consumers of these resources.
Question.In light of the past conflicts between recreational anglers and traditional commercial fishermen over use and methods of take of coastal fish resources in Louisiana, and the anticipation that such user group conflicts may occur in the future, what are your thoughts on managing Louisiana's fisheries resources for sustainable benefits in an equitable way?
Answer: Decisions on the allocation and management of fisheries should be informed by sound science. In support of its recommendations and in response to questions from the public and legislators, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will provide the best factual information available on our fish resources as well as an objective description of the challenges faced in enforcing compliance with conservation laws; the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will set the conservation rules within its purview based on that information, considering public input. The Legislature reserves the authority to allocate the harvest of fish and to determine methods of take, taking in to account social, economic and political considerations. The members of the Legislature respond to their constituents who are also constituents of the Governor.
FIREARMS AND FREEDOM TO HUNT, FISH AND TRAP
- As indicated by the slogan "Sportsman's Paradise" proclaimed on Louisiana vehicle license plates for so many years, hunting and fishing are traditional recreational pursuits for well over a million Louisiana residents, and tens of thousands of nonresidents whose visits contribute substantially to the tourism economy of the state. Through their financial support and advocacy, sportswomen and men are responsible, more than any other group, for sustaining fish and wildlife management and habitat conservation programs that benefit all Louisiana citizens who enjoy the outdoors. Because of serious political threats to hunting, fishing, trapping and the ownership of firearms commonly used for hunting and recreational shooting purposes that have occurred in other states, and the constant threat from anti-gun advocates in Washington, Louisiana sportsmen remain on guard over their right to enjoy these activities and to access, own and use firearms for legal sporting purposes. Consequently, there is always a strong interest in knowing how the governor feels about this subject.
Question.Do you support the right of Louisiana citizens to access, own and use firearms for legal sporting purposes as well as the opportunity to hunt, fish and trap legally and ethically within the rules set by the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, and would you support an amendment to the Louisiana Constitution guaranteeing the right of every citizen to hunt, fish and trap consistent with Article IX, Section 1 of the Louisiana Constitution to protect, conserve and replenish the natural resources of the state?
Answer: The right to own and lawfully use firearms is an important part of the heritage of all Louisiana citizens and will be retained. Likewise, the freedom for Louisiana citizens to hunt, fish and trap is fundamental to the enjoyment of our outdoor traditions and should be guaranteed by the Louisiana Constitution.
CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE/DEER IMPORTATION
- Deer hunting is the most popular hunting activity in Louisiana providing recreation for thousands of Louisiana sportsmen and women and generating $millions in revenue for landowners and businesses. To protect the wild deer herd from the introduction of chronic wasting disease, the importation of deer and elk into the state has been banned by action of the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission and the Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry.
Question.Considering that the economic value of the alternative livestock (deer/elk) industry to the state is very small compared to the economic, esthetic and intrinsic value of the wild white-tailed deer population to Louisiana and her citizens, would you support a permanent ban on the importation of deer and elk into Louisiana to protect the wild deer resource from contracting fatal diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease?
Answer: Due to disease concerns and the potential adverse impact on our hunting heritage, it should be the policy of the state to discourage the importation of deer, elk or any other wild or domestic animal into the state that may put the health of native wildlife resources at risk. The current ban on importation of deer and elk due to concern with the spread of chronic wasting disease will be continued for the foreseeable future. Whether or not the ban will be lifted will depend on our capability to control and manage the disease to safeguard the wildlife resources of the state.
WATERWAY ACCESS - STATE LANDS/WATERBOTTOMS
- Historically, fishermen and other resource users have enjoyed water borne access to Louisiana's vast complex of coastal wetlands and backwater swamps. In recent years, disputes between these users and landowners have proliferated as waterways that traditionally had been accessible have been posted and gated against free access. Due to the dynamic processes such as subsidence, erosion, accretion and flooding interacting with man-made alterations such as channels and levees, that are at work influencing much of the state?s waterways, wetlands, and waterbottoms, it is often not readily apparent where the line is between public and private ownership in these systems. The State Land Office has been directed via Act 919 of the 2001 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature (R.S. 41:1701-1714) to inventory all state lands and waterbottoms and make public record of such public ownership. However, adequate funds have not been budgeted to allow SLO to complete that task in a timely manner. At the current rate, the inventory directed by Act 919 will take 25-30 years!
Question.What will you do to expedite the accurate identification of public waters and guarantee the right of the public to access and use the public waters of the state for traditional purposes like fishing and crawfishing?
Answer: A current, accurate inventory of state lands and water bottoms will benefit all citizens of the state. The staff and resources of the State Land Office will be augmented sufficiently to accomplish this task within the next 4 years. During this process the ownership of some lands/waterbottoms will be "grey" or disputed. A process will be established to resolve the ownership of these areas amicably insofar as that is possible, and negotiate state ownership of those lands/waterbottoms that have high public value and have traditionally sustained public use. This effort will not be a raid on private ownership and will be conducted in the spirit of cooperation.
- In 1999 the Louisiana Legislature approved the Atchafalaya Master Plan and authorized funding up to $85 million over a 15-year period to match $250 million in federal dollars to implement the comprehensive conservation and recreation plan for the Atchafalaya Basin. To date, the Atchafalaya Basin Program within the Department of Natural Resources has been wildly popular with the citizens of the region, completing 20 projects with 23 projects currently in progress, 19 ongoing studies and numerous additional proposals under consideration.
Question.How will you support the Atchafalaya Basin Program and continued funding for its projects and management?
Answer: The Atchafalaya Basin Program will continue with sufficient funding in the Governor's budget request to match federal funds to implement the Master Plan and with renewed emphasis on the conservation and restoration of ecosystem values in the Basin including improvements in water quality and fish and wildlife resource productivity as well as compatible public use opportunities.
- Pipelines, flowlines and other production facilities (and associated canals and spoil banks) associated with the development of mineral resources in Louisiana's wetlands have disrupted the natural hydrology, contributed to the impairment of water quality, and have become hazards to navigation in some areas, particularly the Atchafalaya Basin and coastal marshes. Many of these "facilities" have been abandoned and are eyesores and impediments to the development of natural resource based tourism.
Question.What are your thoughts on addressing the problem of oilfield trash - abandoned pipelines, flowlines and other production facilities, and will you work with the oil/gas industry, landowners and environmentalists to begin a program of cleaning up this mess in our wetlands?
Answer: The very successful Oilfield Site Restoration Program (OSRP) within the Department of Natural Resources provides a model on which to base a larger oilfield cleanup and beautification program that addresses pipes, tank batteries and other structures that are no longer in use, that need maintenance, that are a hazard or present a threat to the environment. The OSRP was created by statute and is funded with the consent and support of the industry through an assessment on production. The development of any such program will require the participation and support of the energy development industry. It should give priority to cleaning up public lands and waters, particularly in heavily used and wildlife rich areas of the state like the Atchafalaya Basin. The Governor's office will convene a conference of industry representatives and other stakeholders to explore the creation of an oilfield cleanup program and follow up with the introduction of legislation based on consensus that emerges from the conference.
GULF OF MEXICO HYPOXIA
The hypoxic zone of low oxygen, commonly known as the "Dead Zone," that forms each year off Louisiana's coast is one of the largest such areas in the world. The growth of hypoxia threatens the productive fisheries in Louisiana's coastal waters. A solid body of scientific data has demonstrated that the hypoxic zone is fueled by nitrogen loads in the Mississippi River, much of which enters the river north of its confluence with the Ohio. A national Task Force composed of states along the river and key federal agencies reached agreement on an Action Plan to address the hypoxia problem in 2000, but progress has been slow due to a lack of federal funding. In 2001, Governor Foster joined with 6 other governors of states within the Mississippi River Basin to urge the Bush administration to implement the Action Plan. Louisiana has assumed a leadership role and joined with neighbor states Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas to take action in the lower river basin, but further resources will be needed for real progress to be made.
Question.Will you continue to take a leadership role in efforts to reduce hypoxia in Louisiana's coastal waters, including garnering national support and federal funding for implementing the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan?
Answer: The Governor will continue to support Louisiana's role in the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan to reduce the amount of nutrients entering the Mississippi River and use the opportunity to establish relationships with the governors of other states in the Mississippi River watershed to improve the quality of water in the River and garner political support for this and other common conservation issues in the Mississippi Valley.
LAND USE PLANNING/SPRAWL
- Lack of "smart" planning for growth, especially in urban and near-urban areas, is a problem cited by citizens concerned about land use, green space, and environmental protection, as well as by government officials struggling to pay for the infrastructure needed by the sprawling subdivisions so common in many areas of Louisiana. Growth that occurs under inadequate land use planning and management can result in excessive flood damages and soil erosion, water supply contamination, loss of greenspace, increased traffic, and noise and air pollution. Ultimately, poorly planned growth can diminish property values, put stress on local school systems, require increased taxes to pay for infrastructure, and detract from the quality of life in our state.
Question.What is your position on regional land use planning and "smart" growth and what role should the state play in encouraging better planning locally and statewide?
Answer: Each day it becomes more apparent that Louisiana communities could benefit from better planning. Although the function of planning has traditionally been a local prerogative, the state either already has or could create various tools to encourage better planning such as incentives, disincentives, design and implementation of state projects (transportation corridors, roads, highways and drainage projects), cost-sharing the retention or restoration of strategic greenspace, and other concepts. The Governor is amenable to developing a greater role for the state in assisting communities and regions of the state in improving the quality of life through better planning. However, any such initiative will have to be mutually embraced by local government leaders and citizens. To stimulate that opportunity, the administration will offer to plan a statewide conference on sustainable communities to explore ways the state and local communities can cooperatively improve the quality of life in Louisiana through better planning.