Free-lease agreements vital to WMA system
Jackson Bienville Wildlife Management Area has been a special place for several generations of Louisiana hunters.
I know some folks whose earliest hunting memories were built on the 25,000-acre property. For many, Jackson Bienville WMA is part of an annual pilgrimage during which they travel from one tract of public land to the next like hunting gypsies.
Wildlife management areas offer incredible opportunities. Some of the best hunters I’ve ever interviewed could swing the fees to hunt private land but choose not to because of the amazing public hunting our state has to offer. After all, the state’s No. 1 non-typical buck was killed on a WMA, and the properties pump out large-racked deer every season.
So it was disappointing to learn that Jackson Bienville WMA, which was established in 1961, has shut down because the current landowner (Weyerhauser) and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries couldn’t reach a free-lease agreement.
Ben’s Creek is among the other Weyerhaeuser-owned properties that in recent years have been pulled from the system to be converted to private hunting clubs, and the Jackson Bienville property is currently being leased out for nice per-acre fees.
If you’ve never hunted public property, you could miss the importance of our WMA system. But keep in mind that, as my dad says, they aren’t making any more land. That means available private leases are finite, and we all know it’s more expensive than ever to join a lease. So your kids or grandkids might need an alternative — and WMAs offer magnificent hunting and fishing without steep fees.
Let’s hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend, since a number of WMAs are operated under free-lease agreements with landowners. Such hallowed hunting grounds as Thistlethwaite, West Bay and Fort Polk WMAs are included in the 450,000 acres of privately owned property remaining in the system.
In fact, more than half of the LDWF-managed public property belongs to private interests. And, with a state budget insufficient to pay the light bills at the Capitol, it’s unlikely the Legislature will add any money to the LDWF’s existing funding sources to purchase any of that free-lease property.
The good news is that LDWF has a long history of providing top-notch public hunting opportunities. I know some of those tasked with managing these properties, and I am confident they are doing everything in their power to not only maintain but expand this state treasure. You partner with them in this effort every time you buy a license.
But free-lease agreements are certain to remain important. So join me in thanking the private entities that are public-minded enough to allow us to continue to use their land for free.