Commentary: Melancon debacle should be lesson in LDWF appointment

Next agency head should have connection with constituency

Often the best lessons are learned not by success but by failure. So the debacle of Charlie Melancon’s reign at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries should give Gov. John Bel Edwards a lot to chew on as he contemplates naming a successor.

While agency appointments are often made with politics in mind, hopefully Edwards has learned the importance of choosing someone to lead the LDWF who has some connection with the agency’s constituency — and a firm understanding of the isssues that motivate those outdoorsmen.

It was apparent almost from the start that Melancon was out of step with the sportsmen of this great state — and politically inept, to boot.

That became crystal clear when he announced opposition to the best path to state oversight of the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery, which had been years in the making. Even in the face of public outcry over his stance against Congressman Garret Graves’ H.R. 3094 and Edwards’ campaign promise to support state red snapper management, Melancon stuck to his guns and promised to go back to the failed approach of working through the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

Apparently, the past 30 years of unsuccessful attempts to bring sanity to red snapper management via this federal council were no obstacle for Melancon.

And then his administration announced the canceling of popular programs, including a Lake Pontchartrain telemetry study and a volunteer-based tagging program. Ironically, the reasoning for ending these programs was a claim that usabale data wasn’t being generated — an assertion that is hard to believe.

Amidst all of these missteps, Melancon became known for foot-in-mouth disease:

• He referred to Graves as “Pinocchio” in a public meeting.

• He dared his staff to record a meeting during which he blasted LDWF staffers who disagreed with him. Shockingly, someone took him up on the offer, and passed along the recording to the news media.

• And then Melancon followed that up with an email that further undermined staff morale.

• A staffer was put on administrative leave and eventually fired amid allegations that she refused to sign off on Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Council minutes that some suspected were altered. Police even investigated a reported break-in of the staffer’s office in which hard drives containing the suspect minutes were allegedly taken.

Even the leaking of an investigation of apparent mismanagement of BP oil-spill money by the previous LDWF administration came off as an attempt to deflect attention from Melancon’s numerous follies, even though auditors eventually did find evidence of financial irresponsibility.

So it came as a relief when it was learned last week that Melancon was resigning, with Edwards saying via an emailed statement that it was agreed “we should move the agency in a different direction.”

It can only be hoped this new direction begins by appointing a secretary who has credibility in the outdoor community, who exhibits true leadership abilities and can instill confidence in the LDWF staff and the agency’s constituency, and who moves the department back to supporting those positions near and dear to the hearts of those who pay the bills at the agency.

While it’s almost assured Melancon’s replacement will be politically active — what agency head isn’t, after all? — hopefully Gov. Edwards will have learned a valuable lesson from the months of chaos at LDWF and prioritize ability over political connections.

Only then can the agency move forward, partnering with the outdoor community to continue Louisiana’s reputation as a true sportsman’s paradise.

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.