A vandalized sign at the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge's Centerville Unit (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of John K. Flores)
Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge trashing is despicable
Turning right off LA 317 in Centerville and onto Alice C Road this past weekend, I noticed the air suddenly filled with the putrid smell of rotting carcasses. Approaching, the Yellow Bayou canal on the Garden City Unit of Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge property, black vultures told the story of this disgusting scene. Someone deliberately dumped three dead hogs along the levee next to the bayou.
They literally took the time to load them into a truck from wherever they killed them, traveled to the refuge levee and got rid of them in the most distasteful way.
Earlier that morning, I was on the Centerville Unit of the refuge. What was pitiful was a blatant act of vandalism, where someone had taken a shotgun and blasted holes in one of the kiosk signs on the refuge, apparently using it for target practice.
Basically, they used the sign for sick sport.
If you’re unfamiliar with National Wildlife Refuge signage, they all have the iconic Canada goose symbol. The guys who did this didn’t have to lead, because it’s quite obvious they were aiming at the head of the goose.
First and foremost, I don’t consider whoever did these things to be hunters. They might be guys who like to kill and shoot guns, but they are not Louisiana sportsmen. Their behavior is inappropriate and inexcusable.
Signs aren’t cheap. Typically, all government entities must go through the public bid process when making high-dollar purchases.
Moreover, there are federal standards for signage used on refuges that must be met by suppliers, so they tend to cost more.
In this era of government budget cuts, the refuge system has been taking huge hits where spending is concerned. So, when you think of the vandals, remember, it’s your tax dollars they are messing with.
If it sounds like I have a real problem with this, I do. There is a pile of reasons this behavior is tasteless.
It’s bad optics. In other words, it’s a reflection on the hunting community as a whole of which I am one. There are a lot of people who participate in non-consumptive outdoor activities, such as hiking, birdwatching, canoeing and photography, who choose not to hunt.
But, they are no less outdoor people. You’ll never win these people over with poor behavior when it comes down to a policy decision that impacts public land use.
You’re also breaking the law.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement Agent, Cpl. Jake Darden, is assigned to St. Mary Parish.
“Litter and destruction of property are both violations you can be charged with,” Darden said. “And, there are multiple other violations stated in the refuge pamphlet you could be in violation of. But, you can be charged with either federal or state offences on refuge property that are punishable by fines or jail time.”
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement Division Media Relations Officer Adam Einck, says there are three categories for littering: simple, intentional and gross littering. Those convicted of litter violations face between $175 and $1,000 fines and up to eight hours in a litter abatement work program. Dumping violations can carry even more penalties and higher fines, depending on the severity of the dumpsite and the damage to the environment.
“Examples of simple littering can be trash flying out of the back of a pickup bed,” Einck said. “Intentional littering can be someone deliberately throwing trash out of a window onto the roadway and brings up to a $250 fine. Gross littering can be someone depositing large amounts of trash into a ditch or having an illegal dumpsite and carries $500 to $1,000 in fines.”
Criminal damage to property is found in Louisiana R.S. 14:56. Under this law, point B.(1) reads, “Whomever commits the crime of simple criminal damage to property where the damage is less than one thousand dollars, the offender shall be fined not more than one thousand dollars or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.”
Point (4) says, in addition to the foregoing penalties, a person convicted under the provision of R.S. 14:56 may be ordered to make full restitution to the owner of the property.
Bayou Teche NWR is really a jewel to visit, and St. Mary Parish is lucky to have the refuge in our backyard. It’s never going to be a J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, like they have on Florida’s Sanibel Island. It may not even be as popular as, perhaps, Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Louisiana.
But, Bayou Teche NWR’s 9,028 acres, with hiking trails, canoe/kayak paddling and biking trails, may have some things these others do not offer.
One of the refuge’s management goals is to provide critical habitat for the Louisiana black bear, but it’s also important for other wildlife and migratory birds. The latter is what draws me to Bayou Teche each spring.
It’s difficult to determine and know what the economic impact of Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge is to our parish, but one thing is for sure: it won’t provide any economic or intrinsic reward if people continue to trash it.