Duck blind removal decision ruffles feathers on Caddo

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540693676c5bd.imageCADDO LAKE — Ruffled feathers were on display Tuesday at a state parks meeting to explain the removal of a 22-year exemption that allowed permanent duck blinds on traditional waterfowl hunting turf.

“Is my feedback going to amount to anything, or am I just wasting my breath?” lifelong waterfowl hunter Justin James asked Texas Parks and Wildlife Regional Director Corey Mason. “There’s memories out on this lake, and I don’t even have a blind out on this lake, not in the WMA.”

The Wildlife Management Area, 8,128 acres looping the north side of Big Cypress Creek before it empties into Caddo Lake, was bought by the state parks service in 1992, Mason told the crowd of about 60 people in the Rec Room at Caddo Lake State Park.

Of more than 50 wildlife management areas in Texas, it is the only one in the state on which permanent duck blinds have been allowed.

Parks service attorney Todd George told the crowd that a succession of executive directors at the state agency have annually issued an exception for the Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area. Many of the duck blinds have been there for decades.

However, Mason and Game Warden Capt. Quint Balkcom told the group that newer blinds have shown up since the parks service bought the land.

That’s never been allowed, they said. Neither has passing or transferring ownership of the blinds, which the parks service believes has occurred.

Balkcom and Mason also said disputes have arisen when hunters clash over who should be in a blind.

The agency’s count of blinds is about 140, a number that many in the crowd disputed.

They also asked why they were only now learning of the state agency’s decision.

“I think the (Parks and Wildlife) Commission needs to entertain a much more intense public comment period,” said Gary Bryce, a 50-year duck blind owner and forester who said he has worked with the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on land management issues. “I think we’ve been denied the opportunity to comment by the state. The federal government could never get away with this.”

Balkcom, who oversees game wardens from Lake Fork to Caddo Lake, said comments taken Tuesday would be forwarded to Executive Director Carter Smith, at Smith’s request.

Smith, who was hired by the nine-member Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in 2008, decided this past summer to let the annual exception ride one more year.

After the coming waterfowl seasons ends Jan. 25, hunters will have until March 15 to remove their blinds.

The recent decision to remove the Caddo Lake exception was made when the panel, all appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, met with staff behind closed doors, attorney George said.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has approved the decision, Mason told the group.

Some suggested charging annual permit fees for the blinds as a way to raise money to attack the giant salvinia invasion they said prevents hunting by boat. The invasive plant has choked areas once accessible by boat.

“You can use that revenue to get rid of the (blinds) that nobody wants,” Trey Loccous suggested, backing others who theorized many of the 140 blinds the parks service reported are decaying junk. “We can eliminate some of those and clean this area up, and it would generate some dollars. I would not have a problem registering my blind and paying whatever you say every year.”

Vernon Jennings told fellow hunters they were taking shots at the wrong people.

“If you want something done, you’re going to have to go to the big dogs,” he said. “The little dogs can’t help you. The executive director, he can help you. Get on the phone and call him. He don’t want to hear from you. That’s your right; it won’t hurt you to get on the phone and call.”

Source: Longview News-Journal

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