Catahoula Lake ruling could shut down public duck hunting

Published: Aug. 9, 2017 at 7:38 PM CDT
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It has been a little known controversy for around 11 years. Catahoula lake, a popular duck hunting and fishing spot in Cenla, may become off limits.

In 2006, Steve and Era Crooks filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Louisiana that said the landowners surrounding the lake are actually owners of the lake.

Well, in Rapides Parish District Court, the judge ruled in favor of the crooks' in "Crooks vs State” saying the state had unlawfully expropriated the river banks, owing the landowners $38 million in damages as well as $4.5 million in unpaid oil and gas royalties, after oil drilling has been taking place in the area throughout the years.

But, that ruling makes Catahoula Lake private land.

It all comes down to what is that body of water. If it's defined as a lake, it's state property and stays public. If it's deemed a river, then it's private property. Well, the judge ruled that it's legally a river. Which could put it in the hands of the private landowners.

"It's a part of Central Louisiana that will hopefully never be taken away," said Brian Cespiva, an attorney and longtime duck hunter at Catahoula Lake.

Cespiva has been hunting at Catahoula Lake for decades.

"Hopefully future generations can see the sky blackened with ducks," said Cespiva.

But now he's worried those days are numbered.

"This lawsuit should concern everybody who hunts and fishes on Catahoula Lake,” said Cespiva.

In "Crooks vs State" a Rapides Parish District Court Judge ruled that Catahoula Lake is actually a river instead of a lake, which could make this longtime public hunting spot private land.

"Very devastating because a lot of people just don't have $10,000 a year to duck hunt," said Cespiva.

Like every summer, what's commonly known as "the lake" is dry, drawn down to help vegetation grow for ducks. But before the state controlled the water levels, this area would only seasonally flood from the nearby river. So, is it a lake or river? This debate could change things forever.

"Definitely if it affected it and made it private land it would put an end to Catahoula Lake as we've known it for the past 150 years," said Tim ware, Chairman for the Catahoula Game and Fish Preserve.

Ware said the state is appealing the ruling where it's now headed to the Louisiana Third District Court of Appeals.

"I'm very optimistic, I hope the third circuit reverses the ruling that came from district court," said Ware.

But for many, it's more than just losing a hunting spot, but also their family traditions...

"Potentially devastating because if this ruling stands, potentially we'll lose what they've always had for decades," said Cespiva.

Ware says the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Lake Charles will hear the case sometime next summer. The case could potentially head to the Louisiana Supreme Court. In the meantime, duck season is a go for the 2017-2018 season--After that, it's unknown.

We reached out the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and they declined to comment. We also reached out to Steve and Era Crooks and they have not responded.