Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Much of Atchafalaya Basin Off Limits, New Map Shows

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(PRWEB) December 15, 2004 -- To look at a map of the Atchafalaya Basin is to see an unlimited number of fishing and hunting opportunities.

In reality, however, most of that expanse of water and swampland is off limits to the public.

That has been made crystal clear with the release of a map by the State Lands Office that details exactly what the state claims.

“We’ve finished inside the levees — only inside the levees,” the agency’s Clay Carter said.

The 42-inch-by-72-inch map can be purchased by mailing a request and $40 check to Records Section, State Lands Office, P.O. Box 44124, Baton Rouge, LA 70804. Or go to the agency’s Web site (www.state.la.us/slo) and download a copy for free.

Publicly accessible waters and lands are indicated by an array of colors, depicting the extent of the state’s claim. Some areas are partially claimed by the state, while others are fully claimed.

All of these areas, however, are open to public use.

Take Duck Lake, for instance. This large lake has produced some of the largest bass in the Basin, and it is shown to be publicly accessible.

However, the fact that the entire lake is open to public use is due to the State Lands Office, with the state Attorney General’s backing, being aggressive in its claims.

The southern half of the lake was ceded to private ownership by a court in 1951, and that would seem to indicate the state could make no claim on the waterway.

However, Carter said the matter didn’t end there.

“Both sides agreed in that case that the waters were navigable in 1812,” he said.

And then the issue came up again in 1975 in a separate case in a state Supreme Court case.

“It basically said navigable waters are not susceptible to private ownership,” Carter said.

So the map shows Duck Lake shaded in two colors: one for the part that falls under public ownership and one that is open to navigation because of the 1975 Supreme Court ruling.

“That is the last expression by the Supreme Court,” Carter said.

And there is a vast amount of land and associated waters that are claimed as public on the western side of the lower Basin.

These areas are shaded in green, and are shown on the legend as being “vacant lands.”

Carter explained that these are all publicly accessible.

“In 1849, the Congress said the state could have all the swamplands in the state,” he said. “That was 10 million of the 27 million acres of land in the state.”

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