A Conversation With Wildlife & Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet

Jeremy Alford: I do want to talk fees with you, but I have to ask…  Do you miss it (serving in the Legislature) at all?

Secretary Jack Montoucet: Not at all. Nothing.

JJA: What do you think’s going on out there?

JM: I can’t even put my finger on it, Jeremy. It’s changed so much from the time I got here to what it is today. I just can’t figure it out.

JJA: So after watching that special session, are you able to draw any parallels between running an alligator farm and trying to tic votes on the House floor?

JM: Yeah. They’ll both bite you.

JJA: Do you still live in Scott?

JM: Yeah.

JJA: Do you even dare say where your favorite boudin place is?

JM: No, because I try to them all. I think there are three or four places. They’re all good. My favorite is certainly the Best Stop, probably because that was the original one and the first one to set up there.

JJA: That hogshead cheese over there is to die for.

JM: Isn’t it?

JJA: Well, look, I wrote a brief on March 1 that the department was trying to get ahead of the curve on these proposed fees, and was trying to get out in front of anyone who might describe it as a money grab. I pointed out the individual license increases and I heard from your office, particularly two staffers who weren’t happy with that depiction. And I thought about it and I think that’s fair. I think there was probably a better way I could have gone about previewing the fees. When outdoorsmen and others have asked you why, what has been your answer?

JM: When I look at the whole picture and see that we have 117 licenses, it’s a little confusing which you needed in order to be able to hunt legally and fish legally. Over the years, that has accumulated because of the Legislature is either giving licenses away or adjusting licenses or producing new licenses for new gigs, so to speak, or hunting opportunities or fishing. So I just figured we needed to consolidate that and shrink it to 30 and make it more reasonable. And look, one of the first things the governor said is we’ve got to simplify things for the people in the state. So I took that to heart. The other big thing is that our funding source has fluctuated so much because we depend so much on oil. I figured it was time for us to look at that. At the end of the day, we’re deficit spending at this point. We can’t continue to do that. We’re looking at our organizational structure and how we’re funded and where we’re spending our money and consolidating and looking at contracts that we have, reducing those contracts and consolidating where we can.

JJA: I wanted to ask you about the deficit spending, because this isn’t something that happened overnight. It has been 18 years since the department had a systemwide adjustment to licenses. If you’re unable to obtain this adjustment from the Legislature, what’s the forecast?

JM: It looks like, if oil stays where it’s at today, we’ll probably going to hit Ground Zero around 2022, at the level that we’re spending today.

JJA: There’s actually a number of licenses — and correct me if I’m wrong — that are even decreasing, and you’ve got some that aren’t changing at all. It’s not kind of a wholesale change, is it, aside from the consolidation plans?

JM: In this consolidation, we’re offering more privileges for people to have under one license versus four or five. In doing that, we’re able to reduce that cost to the user. Now, that’s not for all of them. One of the big factors has been our out-of-state customers that come here to hunt and fish. That level or that cost factor has not kept up with what our neighboring states are charging our hunters and fishermen when they go and hunt and fish there. So we’ve kicked that up to bring that in line with what other states are charging. That’s going to generate a substantial amount of revenue. But at the end of the day, we’re not able to capture all of our fishermen and all of our hunters so that we can leverage our federal funding that we have available to us. We have to generate a profit with our licenses in order to leverage that federal money. So that’s kind of the trick.

JJA: From what I can see, the out-of-state licenses that will increase, when compared to our neighboring states, will still either be tied for the lowest price or will actually be the lowest price when you put all the nearby states side by side.

JM: Yes, it is.

JJA: Let’s talk about the number. Overall, the revenue generated from this proposed package would be about $10 million annually, right?

JM: Yes.

JJA: What would the federal match be?

JM: $1.35 million is the federal dollars that we’re leaving on the table now.

JJA: If I’m just a guy who fishes, fresh and salt, I’m a resident, duck hunt, deer hunt, how big of a change for those four activities are we looking at?

JM: The Sportsman’s Paradise Package today costs you $100. Under the new proposal, all of those same privileges would cost you $90. So there’s a $10 savings there.

JJA: It seems like you’ve done a good job of selling this. There has been positive coverage coming out of The American Press, from the Baton Rouge Press Club and Louisiana Sportsman. One of the recurring themes seems to be that as sportsmen, as outdoorsmen, we all need to step up and own a little piece of this responsibility of funding the department’s mission. Do you think that’s the message that probably resonates most with the folks that are going to be paying these fees?

JM: The people that hunt and fish are the people who get it. It’s a resource they’re using and they know that there’s nothing in this life that’s free. We all have to pay our share if we’re going to maintain that status of Sportsman’s Paradise. There are some costs involved. We provide much more than just enforcement in our state. We manage 1.5 million acres of land that’s made available to every human being that lives in Louisiana. With that, managing those properties is a pretty expensive proposition. We have four or five hatcheries where we actually produce hatchlings, or fish, to put in our lakes and all of our streams in Louisiana. That’s a big cost factor. We also have an oyster hatchery that we manage and a fish lab — a couple of fish labs, in fact, in the state. All of those entities are pretty expensive to maintain and to keep up. We do a hell of a job monitoring and counting and doing research when it comes to fishing, both in our state and our federal waters. That’s a pretty costly event, too, to always be out there monitoring, to always be taking samples and evaluating those things. It’s expensive. At the end of the day, we provide a lot of services. We’re talking about hunting and fishing opportunities, educational courses that we also provide. And then, to top all of that off, we’ve got an enforcement department that’s about 267 people that’s out there monitoring and making sure that everybody’s fishing and hunting within the guidelines of what our laws are. So when you’ve got that many people on the road every day, working the whole state, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, that’s an expensive proposition.

JJA: So, if you were still in the state House of Representatives, your vote on this proposed fee package would be…?

JM: Yes.

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