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New Future For White Lake

January 15, 2005 12:00 AM

On the heels of legislation (Act 613 of the 2004 Regular Session) directing transfer of management of the White Lake Property to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF),an agreement has been negotiated between the state, BP America Production Company  and White Lake Preservation, Inc. (WLPI) to complete that transition by July of this year.  A LDWF press release issued on January 10th announced that transfer of control of the 71,000 wildlife preserve and all facilities on the property has begun.  The agreement allows WLPI to complete fundraiser hunts through the current hunting season, and WLPI's three full-time property managers will have the option to maintain their positions as LDWF employees.  BP retains its mineral rights on the property.

According to LDWF, habitat assessment will begin following the current hunting season with staff biologists assessing site resources and gathering data to formulate the department's management plan.  Due to the unique features of the preserve, public access to the property will be determined only after staff assessment is complete and the White Lake Property Advisory Board, established by Act 613, has reviewed staff recommendations.  Nominations to the advisory board are now under review by the Governor, who will make the appointments.

The "Reserve," as it's known locally, is in Vermilion Parish near Gueydan, Duck Capitol of America and new home to the State Duck and Goose Calling Contest.  Its relatively pristine freshwater marsh is a magnate for wintering waterfowl and for many other species throughout the year.  It also includes a slice of White Lake waterbottom and about 16,000 acres of agriculture, mostly rice.  It was managed for years by owner Amoco Corporation as an exclusive hunting retreat.  Pumps and water control structures help maintain the property's prime marshland.

When British Petroleum bought Amoco a few years ago, the "Reserve" didn't fit well with the new owners' priorities and discussions began on how best to dispose of the property.  Perhaps the "greenest" of the world's largest energy companies, BP wanted to do something good for the environment and wildlife and was contemplating the possibility of donating the property to one or more of the major national habitat conservation organizations.  But ultimately a deal was made with the state and the donation was announced in July of 2002.  The state would own the property, but it would be managed by a private corporation controlled by Governor Mike Foster and some of his friends.  Normally, state conservation lands are managed by a state agency like LDWF. 

When this peculiar management arrangement was questioned by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, and alternatives suggested, the LWF was dismissed.  "They have no legitimacy," retorted the Governor when a reporter asked him about LWF's concerns. 

State Senator Joe McPherson also questioned the deal, as did the state's major newspapers.  Rebuffed by the Governor, too, McPherson filed a lawsuit challenging various provisions of the donation agreement on both statutory and constitutional grounds.  The LWF filed to join the lawsuit.  Subsequently, McPherson introduced legislation directing that the management of the property be transferred to the LDWF.  On the second attempt, with the support of Governor Blanco, the legislation was adopted by a wide margin.  In consideration of the legally binding agreement that transfers the management of the White Lake Property to the state, the lawsuit has been settled and dismissed. 

According to LWF Executive Director Randy Lanctot, "Essentially all our concerns have been addressed by the new agreement and we are gratified that we can now focus on mustering sufficient resources to properly manage the property and on developing and implementing a management plan that fulfills the conservation, education and recreation purposes of the donation."

The following background information further describes the requirements of the Act of Donation of the White Lake Property, the provisions of Act 613 of the 2004 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature and the guidelines and responsibilities for the White Lake Property Advisory Board.

The White Lake Property has been historically managed as a waterfowl and wildlife refuge and hunting preserve with water control structures and pumps to maintain the freshwater marsh, and agriculture leases on 16,000 acres farmed primarily for rice.  Some of the agriculture leases are subleased for private hunting.  Since the donation, some public waterfowl hunting has been allowed via lottery hunts and high-dollar fundraising hunts have also been provided.

The act of donation (donation) of the property to the State requires that the property be conserved and protected in perpetuity as a relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife or plants, or similar ecosystem.  It further requires that the state prevent any use of the property that will significantly impair or interfere with the conservation values of the property, its wildlife habitat, natural resources or associated ecosystem.  The donation also reserves the mineral interest in the property and the right to access the property and to maintain the mineral production on the property to the donor, including priority use of facilities on the property as required to conduct energy development operations. 

The donation requires the State to honor existing servitudes and leases on the property.  It requires the State to maintain the quality and extent of marshlands on the property to the extent that is possible.  It also requires the state to make a reasonable effort to maintain and preserve the agricultural character of that portion of the property that is currently in agriculture, particularly rice culture, because of the benefits to waterfowl and the larger ecosystem and to require the agriculture lessees to maintain canals, ditches, levees, roads and other structures needed to maintain agriculture production, as long as there are lessees willing to perform the agricultural operations on commercially reasonable terms. 

The donation prohibits commercial hunting on the property except to the extent provided for in existing leases and requires that any such leases be modified to prohibit commercial hunting if and when the leases are renewed.  With the exception of harvesting alligators and controlling pest animals, the donation limits the discharge of shotgun to not less than 200 yards and rifles to not less than 1,000 yards from any present or future structure on the property, including mineral production facilities.

Act 613 of the 2004 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature authorizes the establishment of the White Lake Property Advisory Board (Board) whose members are appointed by the Governor, subject to approval of the Senate.  Organizations/entities designated to make nominations for consideration of the Governor include: Ducks Unlimited; Delta Waterfowl; Louisiana Nature Conservancy; Louisiana Wildlife Federation; Louisiana Ornithological Society; Sierra Club (Delta Chapter).  Other nominees are to come from LSU, Southern and the UL System; Vermilion Parish, BP, the Louisiana House and Senate and White Lake Preservation, Inc.  Up to 13 members will be appointed.  Three members of the Board must be residents of Vermilion Parish and 7 members of the Board must have expertise in scientific disciplines pertinent to the conservation and management of the natural resources found on the White Lake Property. 

The members of the Board will serve without compensation and not be eligible to engage in the taking of fish or game resources or other recreational activities on the property at times and places when these activities are not also available to the general public.  The Board will meet at least twice annually at times and places determined by the chairman. 

The duties of the Board are to advise the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Wildlife and Fisheries Commission regarding the administration, control, management and operation of the property consistent with the conservation purposes of the donation, including the development and implementation of a conservation management plan and the establishment and maintenance of a wetlands center for environmental research and education on the property.  Duties further include advising the LDWF and LWFC regarding the protection of natural resources, preserving and promoting biological diversity, undertaking land and water management projects that enhance or restore natural wetland and upland habitats, and promoting environmental education and research. 

The board has a fiscal role in that it may solicit and accept gifts and donations to be used to operate and manage the property, and its recommendations will have weight with respect to the appropriation of funds by the Legislature for the operation of the property.  


 
 
 
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