Our Views: Not cuddly, but essential

This fall, a highlight of Louisiana Public Broadcasting’s season will be a new segment of “Alive! In America’s Delta ” focusing on the efforts to bring back the populations of the black bear.

Producer Liz Barnes and a crew will have a year’s worth of footage to use, working along the coast near Patterson and in the Red River Wildlife Management Area in Concordia Parish in north Louisiana.

The “Alive!” series is a valuable insight into Louisiana’s natural heritage and if experience is any guide, there will be vivid pictures of bears and the state and federal wildlife agents working to save the black bear.

But if we had our way, we think there ought to be pictures of some uncuddly politicians in suits among the bears and their cubs.

For the decline of bear habitats and subsequent endangerment of the black bear goes back to economic forces, and it took considerable leadership — even, dare we say it, astute dealmaking — to make a long-term difference in survival of the black bear.

The sweeping process of draining the northern parts of the Atchafalaya Basin for farmland was part of the threat to black bear habitats, as was the decline of hardwood forests in the river bottomlands along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya river system in Louisiana.

Over many years, efforts to preserve the hardwood bottomlands resulted in the purchase with state, federal or private dollars — often a combination of all three — of the acreage that now houses state or federal wildlife refuges.

The late Gov. David C. Treen, a conservative Republican, took a lead on the preservation of the Tensas River bottomlands.

Many politicians of both parties worked on that particular front, including a senior federal appropriator, then-Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., Others, including then-state Sen. Foster Campbell, of Bossier City, in the Legislature, who is still a populist voice in public life, pushed funding from the state end.

Treen played a key role in the difficult negotiations that resulted in conservation easements to protect the Atchafalaya Basin for future generations.

It was no easy task with the conflict of public and private interests, landowners and oil companies and environmentalists.

As so often in public life, the labors of the suits are not readily appreciated, because so much of what government does takes a long time to become reality. The nature of government is that it mostly produces not tangible products but public goods, such as cleaner environment or space for future generations to enjoy the outdoors.

The preservation of the Tensas bottomlands, the Atchafalaya and other wildlife refuges is now reflected in the black bear population.

Twenty years after being placed on the endangered species list as a threatened subspecies, the animal has made enough of a comeback to prompt a movement to remove it from the list.

State and federal officials are preparing to make that decision at the beginning of 2014, years ahead of the original estimated de-listing target of 2025.

That is a success of the suits worth celebrating.