Q&A with Louisiana's State Land Steward

Q. What do you do?

A. My job title is State Land Steward. I coordinate the stewardship activities of 10 preserves totaling nearly 14,000 acres of TNC owned land west of the Atchafalaya River. In addition to the TNC owned land, we also hold easements on several properties throughout the state that require yearly monitoring.

Q. What is stewardship?

A. Stewardship basically means management of resources. In our case, the resource is ‘land’. ‘Land’ is a loose term because we manage aquatic resources as well on our preserves. 

Q. Describe some of these preserves?

A. Louisiana has a diverse landscape and our preserves really showcase this diversity. The smallest preserve is Schoolhouse Springs which is 30 acres located in the hilly lands of Jackson Parish. Our largest preserve is Cypress Island Preserve in St. Martin Parish which is nearly 9,000 acres. The Cypress Island Preserve includes bottomland hardwoods, live oak cheniers, bald cypress/water tupelo swamp and also includes a portion of Lake Martin. We have preserves in north Louisiana that showcase everything from shortleaf pine/oak/hickory forest in Claiborne Parish to calcareous prairies in Caldwell Parish.

Q. What does preserve management involve?

A. First, we have to think about what these areas are ‘supposed’ to look like. There is very little Louisiana landscape that has not been altered due to land clearing for agriculture, tree farming, and development. Much of our management deals with restoring the properties to its historical landscape. Prescribed fire, herbicides, offsite timber removal, and planting are all tools used in the restoration process.

Restoration is never really complete. It just goes into the maintenance phase. The restoration process does not know a time-scale. We look to manage these properties long-term and realize it may take many, many years to accomplish what we have set out to do.

Q. How do you know what the historical landscape looked like?

A. Sometimes we are able to go back and look at historical photos to get an idea of what the landscape looked like if the photos were taken before the land was manipulated. There are also old maps that were drawn by surveyors in the mid- to late-1800s when performing the surveys for locating section/township/range boundaries. The surveyors would traverse the landscape often taking notes along the way describing the landscape. They would use trees for indicating the boundary for that particular section. They would tell the species and diameter of the tree located at that boundary. 

Q. What are some of the threats that effect management of these properties?

A. One of the main threats is invasive species, both plants and animals. Chinese Tallowtree is the fifth most common tree in Louisiana. Tallowtrees and many other plants are taking over our landscape replacing our native species. We try to keep this from happening but it can be overwhelming. Aquatic invasives such as salvinia and water hyacinth are taking a toll on Louisiana’s waterways and decreasing recreational activities.

Q. What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

A. My family thinks I just go ‘play in the woods’! I am fortunate in that I do have a job I enjoy, but for every day in the woods, I have to spend a day writing reports inside. I enjoy getting to see different parts of the state and learning about historical Louisiana. Some of these areas are pretty remote and I also get to meet plenty of local people who know the history of the property and tell their stories. I love talking about conservation to people and try to get them to look at things in a different perspective. Many landowners have certain goals in mind whether it be growing big pine trees or growing big deer, but sometimes even a small conversation can lead to a change in the way they look at land management. Oftentimes, instead of trying to benefit just one species, many species can benefit without changing the end goals of their land management. We all need to be better stewards of the land in order to ensure there are still great places left for our kids and their kids to enjoy.

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