A one-year extension on how long duck blinds will be allowed in state-owned hunting grounds at Caddo Lake did not bag any friends for the state agency chief who announced it.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Director Carter Smith riled hunters last month with his announcement that permanent duck blinds in the Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area must come down after the waterfowl season ending in January.
But after catching heat at a public meeting earlier this month, the department said it was adding another year to the deadline for hunters to clear their blinds from the 8,128-acre management area — but Smith emphasized the decision does not change the department’s intent to rid the lake of the blinds.
“They are just kicking the can down the road,” Dr. Randy Cox said Friday from his ophthalmology office in Atlanta. “I don’t think that’s going to satisfy anyone, because this is something going on for 100 years.”
Cox was one of about 60 hunters and Caddo stakeholders who blasted Smith’s decision during a Sept. 2 meeting at Caddo Lake State Park. Many complained of potentially losing blinds in which they grew up hunting with fathers, grandfathers and later with sons.
Cox said his father-in-law built the blind he has used for 40 years.
The wetlands looping the northern shores of Cypress Bayou before it empties into Caddo lake are the only wildlife management area of 52 in Texas that allows permanent duck blinds.
That came about through negotiations when the state acquired the land in 1992. Each year, the director of the state parks service had extended the grandfather exemption.
Smith said his reasons for ending the exemption were two-fold: to allow equal access to hunting on state land for all residents and to end disputes his agency reports occur when hunters find themselves vying for the same blind.
“Every excuse they’re making just does not apply to our area,” Cox said. “I have been hunting out there forever and I’ve never had a conflict at any time. I have written the governor. I have talked to our state representative and senator, and they are both opposed to it.”
Parks and Wildlife spokesman Steve Lightfoot said Smith evidently realized, after hearing input from the hunters, that more time would be needed to clear the blinds. A survey by state park staff indicted many more blinds in the area than hunters believed.
“I have since been to a lot of those places and seen the old board nailed to a tree,” Cox said.
Dilapidated and abandoned blinds will be taken down during the extra year Smith has designated.
“We recognize and respect the uniqueness of this situation,” he said in a statement about the extension. “We understand folks have had these structures in place for a long time. But, this extension in no way deters our obligation to provide fair and equitable use of this public resource for all hunters.”
Smith said that means hunters must clear the blinds after the 2015-16 waterfowl season or the government will.
“This kind of came out of the blue, I guess, for a lot of folks,” spokesman Lightfoot said, noting his own Cherokee County ties. “I understand the culture, I’m from East Texas. Once it became public land, it kind of changed the rule. And, unfortunately, some folks got caught up in it.”
Cox said he tried to call Director Smith.
“He won’t return my calls,” Cox said. “He sends (Wildlife Division Director) Clayton Wolf, his little helper, to talk to me” by phone.
Lake resident Duane Meyers said the state agency would do better to address the giant salvinia invasion that’s been making navigation by boat, the only realistic alternative to blind hunting, less possible as the plant chokes waterways.
A group of residents and lake supporters have raised funds to begin a salvinia weevil farm to grow the plant’s only natural predator. The state agency has not taken a role on that front but continues to spray herbicide on the state’s largest natural lake.
Several hunters at the Sept. 2 meeting suggested charging them annual permit fees for duck blinds and using the money in the salvinia war.
“I’ll be happy to pay a permit any day, anytime,” Cox repeated. “That’s not a problem at all.”
Meyers described the lake-choking plant as “the real enemy.”
“My biggest concern is, they are pitting good people against good people out here,” Meyers said. “It’s just ridiculous. I told them they need to get a (Parks and Wildlife) board meeting down here at Caddo Lake.”
He noted that none of the nine members of the state parks board is from East Texas and questioned whether any of them have seen Caddo Lake, once the eastern gateway to Texas and an early commercial center.
“It’s got a tradition none of the other (Wildlife Management) areas have,” Meyers said. “And they need to honor that.”