ALEXANDRIA — Hunters trying to overturn the ban on hunting deer with dogs in the state’s only national forest claim an arbitrary decision affects a tradition they’ve passed on for generations.
Three individuals and the Louisiana Sportsmen Alliance filed a second lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service, which put a stop to dog-deer hunting in Kisatchie National Forest. When it enacted the ban, the Forest Service cited public safety concerns, conflicts between hunters and landowners, and complaints by those hunting without dogs when they proposed the ban in 2009.
A judge dismissed a similar lawsuit brought by the alliance in 2012. The second lawsuit has been filed in the same court — the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.
“As in many places, dog-deer hunting is a deeply rooted family tradition in Louisiana and has been passed down for generations here,” Christopher Ralston, an attorney with Phelps Dunbar in New Orleans who represents the plaintiffs, told the Louisiana Record. “It is not simply a hobby or a pastime, but is part of the social fabric in certain communities. The Forest Service’s decision to ban dog-deer hunting in the Kisatchie National Forest appears arbitrary for the various reasons cited in the complaint, and our clients are hopeful that the court will vacate the ban and allow them to once again participate in this important cultural tradition with their families.”
The complaint cites a lack of effort to consider other options and a lack of data supporting the decision to ban dog-deer hunting in the forest. For example, the complaint alleges that records don’t support claims that dog-deer hunters are responsible for a disproportionate number of legal violations.
Trent Hollingsworth, one of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit, has always lived within 30 minutes of Kisatchie National Forest. He can remember hunting deer in the woods with his dad and dogs when he was 4 years old.
Now that he’s a father, it’s important to him to bond with his daughters this way, Hollingsworth told the Record. Dog-deer hunting, which involves working with several hunters and hounds to flush out deer, is more than a passing hobby for his family. He owns 21 hunting dogs and, over the past five years, he’s spent approximately $40,000 to care for them with his daughters’ help.
“They raise puppies, we train them, they name them," Hollingsworth said. "I don’t know that they’ll do this when they get older, but they love it now. It’s something I get to share with them.”
Now that he can’t go dog-deer hunting at Kisatchie, which borders his property, Hollingsworth drives four and a half hours to hunt in a national forest in Arkansas.
Over the years that the alliance has argued the ban, Hollingsworth has been perplexed by the decision because the public comments opposing a ban outweighed those supporting it.
The complaint claims the Forest Service was set on eliminating dog-deer hunting in the forest. Among accusations of poor data collection, the complaint points out that the proposed ban garnered 1,300 public comments, of which only 1 percent supported the decision the Forest Service ultimately made.
“I think we have a strong case,” Hollingsworth said. “It shows that the Forest Service was going to go with this decision no matter what the outcome was.”