Overview & Perspective - Reflecting on the Future

Linda Benedict  |  5/5/2005 6:08:59 PM

What used to be the School of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries is now the School of Renewable Natural Resources. Bob Blackmon is the director. (Photo by John Wozniak)

Bob Blackmon

This issue of Louisiana Agriculture contains articles by members of the wildlife and fisheries faculty of the recently renamed School of Renewable Natural Resources. These articles reflect the growing breadth of the school’s mission. While we have had wildlife and fisheries programs for many years, they, like the entire school, are expanding to include aesthetic and other values of nature. Indeed, the school is in a rather sharp transition from game management and forest commodity production to a more contemporary focus.

That new direction will eventually define natural values of the landscape as “commodities” worthy of the school’s and the LSU AgCenter’s resources, while maintaining the necessary level of work on the more traditional commodities common in production agriculture. This is entirely appropriate as the “values of nature” have huge economic, social and environmental impacts on the citizens of Louisiana.

The school is taking several important actions that reflect this new direction. For example, new curricula are being developed in the teaching program to better reflect the realities of the 21st century. These include new concentrations in ecosystem restoration, human dimensions, conservation biology and wetland science. Also in that mix are more traditional programs such as forest resource management, forest products, fisheries, wildlife ecology, aquaculture and wildlife law enforcement. Even these programs, however, will be delivered in ways reflective of contemporary environmental concerns and modern resource management.

On the research and outreach side of the school’s mission, we are developing new programs that are integrative, contemporary and interdisciplinary. Likewise our Extension Natural Resources program is positioning itself to serve a broader range of resource interests in our state. Until fairly recently that group served mostly forestry and game management audiences. It is now moving to a more holistic mission that includes water, non-game wildlife, fish and many other natural resources.

AgCenter research in the school includes a rather wide array of activities, ranging from silviculture and ecology of forests to freshwater fisheries and various studies in wildlife biology and wood products. These projects serve client groups and “industries” that represent a major segment of Louisiana’s economy. Currently, the renewable natural resource base accounts for more than half of the agricultural contribution to the economic welfare of the state. In addition, these resources are at the core of the cultural fabric of a majority of our citizens.

Specific research projects deal with long-term productivity of pine forests and the effect of forest management on environmental quality. Other forestry/forest products research is directed at ecology and physiology of forests, forest growth and yield, marketing and international trade, genetics, bottomland hardwoods, product development and testing, e-commerce and analysis of hazards and accident prevention in forests. A new area of emphasis is that of wood durability and protection of wood from the Formosan subterranean termite.

In the wildlife/fisheries area, the theme of this magazine, work is devoted to migratory waterfowl, the white-tailed deer, threatened species such as the Louisiana black bear and the bald eagle, and ecology and management of freshwater fisheries. The articles included herein are but a sample of that activity.

New is the school’s work with best management practices (BMPs) and water quality. This spring, new and exciting research is getting under way to evaluate the effectiveness of BMPs. Forest landowners are apparently doing a good job of implementing BMPs, but the question remains: Are BMPs effective in improving water quality? Collaboration among fisheries faculty and the school’s newly arrived watershed hydrologist will address this issue with support from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

As the school moves in a broader, more holistic direction, future research will be more interdisciplinary, more inclusive of many natural resources and conducted on a larger scale, including at the landscape level. The school will also focus more of its intellectual energy on coastal and wetland landscapes and bottomland forests, a natural for the school, given its location.

Providing the umbrella for this broadened mission is the new name, School of Renewable Natural Resources. That rubric will allow us to develop even more programs to address the needs of the natural commodities of our state and the needs of its citizens.

Bob Blackmon, Director, School of Renewable Natural Resources, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.

(This article appeared in the spring 2002 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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