For most of my career as an outdoor writer, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has been a dream to work with. The biologists there are competent, hard-working men and women who genuinely care about the fish and game they study and, ultimately, advocate for.
If I had a dollar for every phone conversation I’ve had with an LDWF biologist over the last 20 years, I’d walk away today and retire a wealthy man. I love talking about fish and game, and I relish picking the brains of those who understand why speckled trout move to quick-current passes on warm summer nights and what makes a trophy buck get up after a long day’s nap.
But over the past half-decade, the LDWF has followed a trend that’s now pervasive in state agencies of sanitizing the message. It’s quite possible — common, in fact — that when an individual reporter has a conversation with a biologist or enforcement agent, that reporter might learn something the department doesn’t wish to reveal.
So to keep that from happening, state agencies force reporters to make all media requests through press secretaries. That way, the message can be cleaned up and spun perfectly — true or not — before it ever reaches the reporter.
A decade ago, the LDWF had no press secretaries. Now, it has three.
That system has worked well to sanitize a story that actually originated with a department press release on May 23.
That day, the department reported that agents had found a black bear skin and decapitated head in Iberia Parish on May 19.
The bear had been previously captured and tagged with a passive integrated transponder by the department in 2000, so officials were particularly upset about it having been poached.
In the release, the department included the Operation Game Thief phone number, and offered a cash reward of $5,000 for information leading to an arrest.
Obviously, the agency really wanted to find who killed this bear.
In the weeks that followed, however, the department seemed to drop the issue like a smoldering Kingsford. No updates were issued, and no more requests were made for public assistance.
There may have been a reason why.
On June 5, we received a tip from someone familiar with the case, who said the LDWF had issued a citation to the individual responsible on May 27. The tipster was concerned that the poacher’s well-connected father would pull strings to have this all swept under the rug.
That week, Louisiana Sportsman exchanged emails with LDWF Press Secretary Bo Boehringer asking if an arrest had been made, and was given the following reply: “LDWF cannot comment at this time whether or not an arrest has been made in this case.”
Later phone requests were similarly stonewalled.
The media represent the people. Reporters ask questions and report the answers so each individual citizen doesn’t have to call an agency or official and ask the same question. Yet the department shows such disdain to the citizenry that pays its salaries that it declines to say whether an arrest has been made in a case involving the poaching of one of the public’s bears.
That’s truly unbelievable. What is the department hiding?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Contact the department about this issue by sending an email or calling 225.765.2800.