The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries stands in strong support of the state’s effort to reverse a court decision that could devastate the opportunity of Louisiana citizens to fish, hunt or recreate in much of the Catahoula Lake area.
The ripple effect of the ruling is of even more concern. Copycat lawsuits could be on the horizon that could eliminate public fishing and hunting areas across the state and have a negative economic effect on some rural communities.
This ruling is contrary to over 200 years of public access on Catahoula Lake. And, if it stands, it will forever change what has traditionally been a treasured resource.
Catahoula Lake stretches into LaSalle and Rapides parishes in the Central part of the state. Covering 46 square miles, it is the largest natural freshwater lake in the state. The site is popular with anglers and is recognized internationally as a concentration area for birds and waterfowl.
At issue is a ruling from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2018, declaring that the area known for centuries as Catahoula Lake was actually a stream and not a lake. Therefore, the adjacent landowners, not the state, are the proper owners of the majority of the lake’s inundated water bottoms. The state attorney’s office has asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to reverse the lower court decision.
The attorney general said, if the ruling is not changed, it would not only jeopardize “the public’s right to access and use many Louisiana waterways for hunting, fishing, and habitat conservation — the suit also potentially could cost the State’s taxpayers tens of millions of dollars” in legal fees, along with the loss of oil and mineral rights.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and I agree.
To remove Catahoula Lake from public access could negatively affect waterfowl in the state because it would limit LDWF’s ability to manage water levels that are key to habitat management.
LDWF’s Waterfowl Program Manager said that Catahoula Lake and areas nearby provide a great food resource and roost sites for ducks. Some 1,500 duck hunters could be affected if the ruling stands.
A less discussed effect of the ruling is the financial loss to mom and pop stores, restaurants, gasoline sales, motels and sporting goods stores in the affected communities that depend on the financial shot in the arm they get during fishing and hunting seasons.
Left as is, we feel the ruling would not only hurt Louisiana’s sportsmen, but also communities that so desperately need the income derived from hunting and fishing.
secretary Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries