Two issues facing the Outdoors Arena

Lyle Johnson
Signs like the one shown are quite common in areas that have been fished for many, many years.

There are a couple of issues in the outdoor arena that are worth having some conversation about. The first is public access to navigable waterways. This has become like a boil on your skin in recent years that is about to erupt with all the nasty infection that has accumulated over the years.

It doesn’t seem like all that long ago I remember as a kid going hunting with my dad and the Nickens family. They had rabbit and squirrel dogs so as a youngster I experienced hunting heaven.

Places to hunt never even crossed the adult’s minds as I don’t remember ever seeing any posted signs. The biggest problem back then was deciding where to go. Friends allowed friends to hunt their property joyfully and large landowners usually gave permission to just about anyone who asked permission as long as no property damage occurred.

A lot of our hunting occurred on timber companies land. They never posted any of it and there were no leases for deer hunting because there was no deer population to speak of back then. Everybody hunted just about anywhere they wanted; it seemed so easy.

I know we’re supposed to be talking waterways, so we’ll get there. The principle of leased property started on land. With the well-intentioned introduction and management of deer in our state came monetary value of land. Large tracts of land became posted in efforts to lease it to folks who wanted to hunt. This became a great way for property owners to pay their property taxes.

But as all the available land became occupied, demand increased and along with that demand came competition to acquire it. High demand means high prices in any marketing opportunity. This created a bidding war and naturally the prices to lease hunting property sky-rocketed.

Now, the waterways. Leases for duck hunting have been around for quite a while as well. This type of lease includes both land and water. I was a small part of a duck lease in Venice around 40 years ago that was made up of 300 acres. We never thought about keeping anyone out of the waterways in that lease. That practice went on for a long time.

As the demand for fishing in our “Sportsman’s Paradise” became greater so did the idea of cashing in on it. But the only way to get the cash flow coming was to be able to legally post waterways. This is how that happened.

In 1988 the U.S. Supreme Court took on Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Mississippi with a 5-3 decision that affirmed a lower court ruling that even non-navigable tidal water, and the land beneath it, belonged to the state. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia. They acknowledged that navigable tidal water belonged to the people.

This should have been the end but a little footnote in the ruling opened a loophole that allowed Louisiana's Legislature to do the dirty deed. The court stated, "It has been long-established that the individual states have the authority to define the limits of lands held in public trust and to recognize private rights in such lands as they see fit."

Even that statement of law would seem to be good news for anglers, but the devil, in this case, is in the definition of navigability. Anglers might think "navigable" means a boat could be navigated on the surface of the water. But our legislative body voted to use a map from 1812. So legally the law says any waterway that wasn't declared as navigable when Louisiana was granted statehood in 1812 isn't navigable today.

Later on the trespass law was changed that relieved the land/water owner from having to put up posted signs. All private property is legally posted unless one has written permission from the owner or lessee. Sounds like they really cared about the citizenship; not!

Over the years lots of things happened; confrontations that got heated, tourists being traumatized by law enforcement or paid security, gates & barrels put up everywhere, the courts having to decide what’s public and what’s not. Way too much to include all the stories in this column. It would take a book.

In 2016 the Louisiana Sportsman’s Coalition was formed and became the driving force to get something done. After much time and effort, House Bill 391, which was authored by State Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell) passed through committee on April 10 and which now moves the bill to the House of Representatives where it will be debated in the ongoing session.

Even the board of LASC was surprised at the outcome and some of committee members let it be known that some minds were changed during the hearing as sportsmen from all over the state presented their case. There’s lots of work to be done as there is lots of money on the opposition side and they won’t give up easily. One way to get involved is going to and join the fight.

Another bill that has been filed in the legislature pertains to ATV’s and air boats on wildlife management areas. HB 130 was filed by representative Clay Schexnaydre passed the House 95-5. The next stop is the Senate for another vote.

The bill deals with adding air boat trails relative to use of vehicles on wildlife management areas; to provide for the operation of airboats; to provide for the establishment of airboat trails; to provide for requirements; to provide for rules and regulations; to provide for penalties; and to provide for related matters.

So basically, the bill adds provisions to make it mandatory for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries to construct air boat trails on all WMA’s that has water access and is feasible to do so along with rules of operation and penalties for violations. Places like the Maurepas Swamp WMA would be impacted.

Access by an ATV is impossible and is extremely difficult by foot. Boats, pirogues and kayaks are used by a majority of users. Air boats would give much more access for the public to use the WMA. Also these trails would not harm the ecology, land areas and wildlife. The bill is HB 130 so be sure to contact your senator with your comments.

Remember to set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you!!