When Gov. Bobby Jindal began his search for the man to succeed Bryant Hammett as secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, he could have located someone whose head contained a mental encyclopedia on deer hunting.

He could have tabbed a man who could tell you the precise weight of the average wintering mallard.

Or he could have appointed someone who knew so much about speckled trout he could pull an otolith and count its rings in under 45 seconds.

But he could not possibly have found someone more well-rounded than 59-year-old Robert Barham of Oak Ridge.

"If it has to do with being outside, I just love it," the newly appointed secretary said from his Baton Rouge office after a month on the job.

That passion was fueled at a very young age by a father who always took his son afield.

"It just seems the outdoors has been a big part of my life, all of my life," Barham said. "I call my dad the greatest amateur ornithologist who's ever lived. He was always involved in the outdoors, and he always took me outdoors."

His late father, Erle "Ninety" Barham, was instrumental in establishing the Cooley Wildlife Refuge, where banding and research was conducted on ducks before duck conservation was cool. The younger Barham cut his conservation teeth there.

In his formative years, Barham also worked under Leslie Glasgow at Glacier National Park in northern Montana, where he says he truly learned the importance of natural resources.

He later served as mayor of Oak Ridge, and spent nearly 14 years as a state senator representing Morehouse, Claiborne, Union and West Carroll parishes.

So South Louisiana outdoorsmen might assume Barham is practically a yankee. He is, after all, from north of I-10.

But even though Oak Ridge is about as far as you can get from the coast and still be in Louisiana, Barham is delightfully fanatical about the marshes in the southern part of our state.

"Sen. Reggie Dupre used to always joke that I was the only redneck member of the Cajun caucus," Barham said.

That's because Barham spent the summers of his youth at a camp owned by former senator Claude Duval in southern Terrebonne Parish.

"I loved saltwater fishing then, and I still love it today," Barham said. "I haven't missed a year of saltwater fishing since I was a kid."

In fact, coastal restoration will be one of the highest bullet points on his agenda.

"We've got to restore the coast, especially in the Terrebonne/Barataria Estuary," he said. "We've studied it and we've talked about it, but now it's time to do something. The third diversion into the area is not just an option now."

He also intends to go to battle fighting for the department to gain consistent funding. Currently, the DWF is the only state agency that's not part of the budget. Virtually all of its monies are self-generated.

"Right now, our money is feast or famine," he said. "We need a stable funding source."

When he gets it, he'll put a significant chunk of it toward fighting invasive aquatics.

"Giant salvinia is exploding exponentially across Louisiana," he said. "We need to stop it now. The state of Florida has put $30 million toward aquatic control; we've put less than $2 million toward aquatic control."

If anyone can get General Fund money for the department, it should be the man who spent a decade and a half at the state capital.