- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Hunters have used dogs to flush prey from swamps and forests since the colonial era, when flintlock muskets were the weapons of choice.

It’s a way of life in Louisiana, according to a group of hunters who are making a cultural argument for reversing a federal ban on “dog-deer hunting” in the state’s only national forest.

“This tradition has been passed down through families for generations and is a vital part of the familial, social, and cultural fabric of Louisiana,” the hunters assert in a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court.

The Louisiana Sportsmen Alliance is asking a judge to block the U.S. Forest Service from enforcing its ban on dog-deer hunting in central Louisiana’s 600,000-acre Kisatchie National Forest.

The Forest Service proposed the ban in 2009 and has enforced it for several years, citing public safety concerns and conflicts between hunters and landowners who complained of gunshots near their homes and trespassing dogs. Others who hunt deer without dogs also complained, calling the practice disruptive and unsportsmanlike.

Forest Service spokesman Michael Illenberg said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

A previous challenge by the same group in 2012 was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Dee Drell, who ruled that the Forest Service’s ban was “narrowly tailored and not arbitrary,” and that “the law empowers the agency to make precisely the kinds of decisions made here.”

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Drell’s ruling in 2014, saying the Louisiana Sportsmen Alliance lacked “standing” and never alleged any concrete injury to its members.

The group appears to address that issue with its new lawsuit, which names three hunters as plaintiffs.

One, 38-year-old Robert Trent Hollingsworth, keeps 32 hunting dogs at his home in Dry Prong, a village of several hundred people that is surrounded by the national forest.

He says he’s been hunting deer in the Kisatchie since he was a young boy. Now he has to drive more than four hours to Arkansas to hunt deer with his dogs.

“It’s something that some families have done for a hundred years or longer,” Hollingsworth said. “With the Forest Service ruling it out, a lot of people quit deer hunting altogether.”

Hollingsworth said he enjoys the teamwork and comradery of hunting with his dogs. Nowadays, many hunters equip them with tracking collars to better chase the bucks.

“It’s a group thing,” he said. “It’s a lot more action.”

The new lawsuit says the Forest Service received 1,237 comments in response to its ban, and 917 of them objected to the proposal.

Drell, however, noted in his ruling that the Forest Service has been caught “between a rock and hard place” by conflicts between hunters who use dogs and those who don’t.


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