CUT TO THE CHASE

LDWF Enforcement Agents Put Stop To Illegal Tree Cutting Activity On Spring Bayou WMA

story by ADAM EINCK, LDWF Public Information

Public hunting areas are meant to provide equal opportunity for all hunters that want to enjoy one of Louisiana’s favorite pastimes, primarily those that don’t have private property access.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries provides numerous public access to hunting areas across the state at its Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). These WMAs can be used by any properly licensed member of the public mostly on a first-come first-serve basis. Basically any hunter that arrives to a hunting location first at these WMAs has now claimed that area for that hunt and the hunter may remain there during legal shooting hours.

Hunters at these WMAs may bring non-permanent deer stands and duck blinds to the field. Anything the hunter brings in must be taken out at the end of the hunt.

Over the years, LDWF enforcement agents have worked cases involving individuals that try to claim parts of these WMAs as their own permanent personal hunting area, including hunters trying to set up permanent ground blinds and deer stands. However, none of those past cases were as elaborate or extreme as what two men did to block off a portion of the Spring Bayou WMA for their own personal hunting area.

LDWF agents received a tip that some trees were cut down blocking navigation on Cocodrie Bayou in the northeastern portion of the Spring Bayou WMA on Jan. 14, 2015.

“Senior Agent Doug Anderson and I investigated this complaint the next day and found an oak tree that was cut down blocking the boat path,” said Sgt. Gabe Guidry. “This boat path leads to the area where more trees were suspected of being cut down and we couldn’t get any further on this day.”

On Jan. 17, a team of agents returned in pirogues and identified another 16 trees illegally cut down on the WMA. Then on Feb. 5, another team of agents traveled to the Valerie Lake boat path access and discovered an additional 93 trees cut down on the WMA.

“These trees were cut in order to block passage of boats entering through Bayou Cocodrie and Lake Valerie to prevent access to the northeastern portion of the WMA commonly known as the bean fields, which is a popular public duck and deer hunting location on the WMA,’’ Guidry said.

Agents found a total of 109 trees cut down ranging between six and 30 inches in diameter and up to 50-feet tall consisting of cypress, willow and oak. These trees blocked water navigation to the 400 acres of public access hunting area in the northeastern corner of the WMA.

“Once it was verified that trees were in fact cut down and we saw the scope and the amount of work that went into trying to turn a public hunting area into a private area, we immediately were able to start an investigation and put up a reward for anyone with information,” said Guidry.

The Louisiana Operation Game Thief program and Spring Bayou Restoration teamed up to offer $3,000 in reward money for anyone with information that led to an arrest or conviction in this case.

LDWF agents began receiving anonymous tips through Operation Game Thief that Rick K. Savoy, 51, of Hessmer, and Allen Gaspard Jr., 63, of Marksville, were the two men responsible for the tree cutting on the WMA.

Agents also got a report from an eyewitness that heard a chainsaw and trees falling in the northern part of the WMA on Dec. 9, 2014. The witness then observed two men on a red all-terrain vehicle (ATV) with a chainsaw and was able to identify the men as Savoy and Gaspard, having had previous encounters with the men.

Agents also learned that Savoy had attended an LDWF public meeting in Alexandria in 2013 where he voiced his concern for the use of surface drive vessels in that area of the WMA. Finally, another hunter came forward and told agents of how Savoy tried to recruit him to help him cut down trees on the WMA.

“Every tip and every lead kept bringing us back to Savoy and Gaspard,” said Guidry. “In March of 2015 we were able to obtain an arrest and search warrant for Savoy and later we were able to do the same for Gaspard.”

During the search of Savoy’s property, agents were able to locate a Stihl chainsaw and the red ATV.

Agents arrested Savoy in March of 2015 and Gaspard in October of 2015 for criminal damage to state property and interference with navigation. Both men were found guilty and sentenced in the 12th Judicial District Court in Avoyelles Parish.

Savoy was sentenced on April 11, 2016, to pay $15,000 in civil restitution to LDWF, a $2,500 fine, $750 for the cost of prosecution and $400 in court costs. Gaspard was sentenced on June 16, 2016, to serve two years in jail, which was suspended, to pay $20,000 in civil restitution to LDWF, $400 in court costs and $250 for criminal court fund.

Both men were also given five years of probation during which time they will not be allowed on any WMA and not allowed to possess recreational hunting or fishing licenses.

“The civil restitution penalties were in large part due to the fact the trees these men cut down were of value to the state and this WMA and the cleanup costs associated with getting the waterway back to its navigable state,” said Guidry. “We hope that this case will serve as a lesson to anyone else that wants to try and turn a public hunting spot into their own private place.”

Avoyelles District Attorney Charles Riddle and Assistant District Attorney Tony Salario prosecuted the cases.

Agents involved in the case were Lt. John Volentine, Sgts. Gabe Guidry, Chad Watts and Bear Fletcher, and Senior Agents Doug Anderson Jr., Jay Callegari, Heath Wood, Kurt Hatten, Dale Wheat, Kenny Robertson and John Hattaway. Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Matthew Smith and Detective Jeremiah Honea also assisted in the case.

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