For eight years, starting in 2008, Robert Barham served as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He was there in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and was in charge when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill impacted the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. If that wasn’t enough, Hurricane Isaac visited just two years later.
When Barham took over, the department faced significant budgetary issues.
On top of that, studies and plans to overcome the hurricane devastation were overwhelming. Simply managing the Hurricane Katrina and Rita Federal Fisheries Economic Assistance Program was enormous. It was one of the largest of its kind — ever.
Follow that up with the oil spill and its aftermath, and you can see Barham spent lots of his time dealing with issues not normally faced by a secretary.
He can’t recall more than a handful of good hunting or fishing trips he took during those times, except with family and friends back at home during the holidays. Still, he loved the job and is proud of the department.
“It was the most amazing eight years of my life,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t boring, I can tell you that. There was a lot of good mixed in with the bad. We had quite a run. We had great progress delisting the black bear and bald eagle in Louisiana. I was appointed to the North American Wetlands Conservation Council and helped Louisiana’s progress there. We made great inroads on red snapper management. We added hundreds of thousands of acres to the reserves of recreational land for the sportspeople of Louisiana. Close to my home, we were able to have two outdoor treasures — Bussey Brake Reservoir for fishing and Wham Brake for hunting — donated to the department.
“And even with the curveballs that were thrown at us, I enjoyed it most of all because of the people. First, the people we served. Second, the people in the department who were there because it is what they always dreamed of doing. That’s where they wanted to be, from managing bream to tuna to tarpon to redfish and all the game and public lands under our watch. They made it great. I would’ve worked for free because of them and that’s the truth.”
Barham and his family have always been involved in public service, even though he could have quietly slipped back to their large agricultural and timber operations in North Louisiana after serving several years as a state elected official.
But he stuck it out because of his love for Louisiana outdoors.
He’s always been a fiscal conservative, and making sure the department was accountable for its finances was a huge goal of his.
“Money to me was the most-important obligation I had as secretary of that department,” Barham said. “When I went to Wildlife and Fisheries in 2008 we were less than a year from going into the red. That’s not acceptable. We get no state funds. So with programatic changes, personnel work and structural changes in the department, when we left you could project out four years in the black. So for the whole term of the current governor it should be in the black, because of what we did working together in the department.”