In 1956, the Idlewild Research Station with its 1,800 acres of rolling hills and hardwood creek bottoms became part of the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station. The station originally supported research on cattle, forages, horticulture, agronomy and wildlife. Through the years its mission has changed resulting in a research station now focused on wildlife. To reflect this, its name was changed in 2007 to the Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station, memorializing a local landowner and outdoorsman who was instrumental in the original establishment of the station. Of the total acreage, nearly 1,300 acres are in some forest system. Loblolly pine predominates, but hardwood bottoms grow along Sandy Creek which weave through the station. There is also a 40-acre lake connected to a 4 acre overflow pond.
Currently, there are cooperative forestry projects involving insect monitoring, stand improvement, weed control and forest products utilization. The station is home to two captive deer herds, whitetail and red deer, in addition to a native population of white-tail deer, turkeys and other upland game birds and animals. This station is also home to a herd of 70 beef cows and the base of operations for the feral swine research program. The station is the original site of research on controlling the salvinia invasive weed in Louisiana waterways, and that research continues.
Current research with the captive deer herds includes improving artificial insemination techniques, vaccine development for epizootic viral diseases and improved animal husbandry. Annually, experiments are conducted to foster genetic improvement through improved pregnancy rates following artificial insemination. These trials use both the more conventional transcervical and the more invasive laparoscopic approaches. Briefly, the transcervical procedure is the placement of semen within the uterus by means of an insemination gun and vaginal speculum while the animal is restrained in a drop-bottom chute. Whereas, the laparoscopic procedure is conducted on an animal that is under general anesthesia and held on her back in a cradle. Three small incisions are made in the abdomen and semen is injected into the uterine horns via a specialized needle system using a laparoscope to determine site of injection. Results have indicated that although both approaches result in acceptable pregnancy rates (greater than 50 percent), the laparoscopic approach is more efficient with pregnancy rates reaching 80 percent. Efforts in this area of reproduction in white-tailed deer remain one of the main focuses of the white-tailed deer husbandry efforts.
Studies are also underway to determine the transmission of insect-borne viruses that result in hemorrhagic disease in both deer and cattle. Hemorrhagic disease is the most important infectious disease of white-tailed deer in the Southeast United States. This disease is caused by two related viruses, epizootic hemorrhagic disease or bluetongue virus. It is thought that these viruses are spread through biting midges and when white-tails become infected, it is in most cases fatal. These types of diseases have detrimental effects in both captive and native white-tail populations across the United States. In 2012, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department issued refunds for hunting licenses because of the negative effect of this disease on their native population. One recent result of the LSU AgCenter research effort was the development of a protocol that allows the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to collect bone marrow from deer carcasses found on the landscape. Once analyzed, scientists can determine if hemorrhagic disease was the culprit. Findings from these studies will also allow recommendations to be developed on how producers might combat transmission in a penned scenario. A more in-depth article on this research effort can be found in the fall 2015 issue of the Louisiana Agriculture magazine.
Feral hogs have become the No. 1 animal nuisance in Louisiana, resulting in a negative economic impact of more than $70 million annually in the state, which is a conservative estimate. Currently, a research effort is focused on developing a toxic baiting system for feral swine. Lethal dose trials were carried out to determine the dosage of the preservative sodium nitrite required to cause a humane death in feral pigs. Also, preference trials are underway to determine the flavor as well as the bait formulation be a better word or not?) needed to deliver this toxicant to feral swine.
To date, 13 different bait components have been tested and a matrix believed to assure consumption by feral swine has been determined. The current objective has been to determine an encapsulation protocol that will protect the sodium nitrite from the environment but allow release into the pig’s digestive tract once consumed. Results from these experiments look promising but refinement of this protocol is still needed. Because sodium nitrite is toxic to all mammals, albeit at different dosages, a delivery system will be a requirement before a toxicant is approved. AgCenter scientists are currently assessing one in-house system and two systems from the private sector so that when a bait becomes available, the effect on nontargeted animals will be either eliminated or significantly reduced. The goal before the product can enter the marketplace is for it to be effective only on feral pigs.
Giant salvinia has become the No. 1 invasive aquatic weed in the state, causing millions of dollars of lost revenue to the recreational industry and reduced property values for lake front property owners across the state. Research conducted on this station over the past decade has shown that production of the salvinia weevil once released onto salvinia can be utilized as a primary biocontrol agent. The station currently operates one of three salvinia weevil nurseries to supply weevils to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for use on public waterbodies. The success of the salvinia weevil has been confined to areas of the state south of Interstate 10. However, in collaboration with the Department of Entomology, research trials are underway to identify a cold tolerant weevil for use in waterbodies in north Louisiana.
Other research trials utilizing the native wildlife include varietal development of soft-mass for wildlife in conjunction with plant breeders focusing on wildlife habitat improvement. Also, trials are conducted to determine the preference of native white-tailed deer for different commercially available forage mixes. Each year several forage mixes are planted on food plots and consumption differences are recorded.
In 2015, the Bob R. Jones Wildlife Research Institute was established. The focus of the institute is to provide science-based information to wildlife enthusiasts, private landowners, corporate landowners and general stakeholders across Louisiana in the area of wildlife and habitat management. The institute is governed by a Board of Directors from the private sector and currently has 15 adjunct and two appointed faculty members. In 2016, a scientific board was formed to advise the Board of Directors on ongoing research and future proposals. This private-public partnership is now poised to bring science-based solutions to wildlife issues for the stakeholders of Louisiana.
Glen T. Gentry Jr. is an associate professor and coordinator of the Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station.