Agents walked fine line
Many hunters depended on game for food

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspsondent

"It was a very fine line that we had to walk as Wildlife & Fisheries Agents in the Piney Woods during the 1960's and 70's, which were part of my 25 years as a Game Warden," Benny Long, now retired and living on 25 acres that borders Saline Lake in Winn Parish, told The Piney Woods Journal.

"The first challenge we faced as Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement Agents was that most of the Agents were themselves hunters and fishermen," Long explained. "Secondly, back when I started in 1967, many people still depended upon wild game and fish year round to put food on their tables."

"Those were two of the intangibles that we were always faced with in doing our jobs," Long elaborated. "We certainly did not want to be so overbearing as to hinder someone who was occasionally stepping over the line to put food on the table for their family. However, those who stepped over the line and turned illegal game activities into a business were vigorously tracked down and put out of business."

"We had a situation over east of here where a group was running a substantial business of buying and selling illegal fish and game and trucking it to Texas for sale," Long recalled. "These people were very tight lipped and it took us a couple years to get the evidence that we needed."

"Most people that engage in repeated violation of hunting and fishing laws like to talk about what they are doing. This was the way we got a lot of our tips on illegal activities, Long acknowledged. "On this particular case, illegal game and fish were being trucked to Texas to sell. We finally had to send in an undercover agent to help us gather evidence."\par }{\plain "Probably the major violation that we dealt with on an ongoing basis was hunting deer at night. One of our biologists was conducting a study on the effects of night hunting on the deer population. He was using a cardboard cut-out of a deer with buttons eyes on it that reflected light," Long remembered. "On a whim, I borrowed his cardboard cutout of a deer and set it up using a tomato stick in an area that we suspected a lot of night hunting was taking place. On our first night of using the cardboard cut with reflective eyes, we wrote several violation tickets, one of which was to a high school principal and another to a local preacher."

\par }{\plain Long, whose major area of study was the Wildlife & Fisheries curriculum at Northwestern State University, as well as an Officer Candidate School ROTC program, started at the bottom rung of Wildlife Agents in 1967. Long later rose through the ranks to become a supervisor of agents over three parishes. He was promoted to Captain and supervised Agents in sedven central Louisiana Parishes from an office in Tioga before retiring in 1992.

"Becoming a Wildlife & Fisheries Agent was my dream as a teenager. My dad, Clifford Long, was not pleased with my career choice. He wanted me to be some kind of business owner. But I loved to hunt and fish and just to be in the woods at an early age, so that was my passion."

"At an early age, I became addicted to turkey hunting. In my 50 year hunting career, I've taken over 300 turkey beards from over a half-dozen states. In addition to turkey hunting, I'm a real "dyed in the wool" duck hunter. About 15 years ago, I was hunting on the Rio Grande River in South Texas where I was fortunate enough to bring down an Eurasian Widgeon duck," Long related.

"This Eurasian Widgeon duck is native to China. It was only the 13th recorded instance of this duck species being killed in the lower 48 states. The Ducks Unlimited magazine did an article about my bringing down the Widgeon. Apparently the Eurasian Widgeon migrate from China across the Bering Strait and down into the lower 48 states."

"When I started as an Agent in 1967, I had to go to New Orleans down on Royal Street to our headquarters to get my commission. Back in those early days, I had to use my own vehicle to patrol the woods in. I didn't have a radio in the vehicle so the nights that I was out on patrol or on a stake-out, I felt pretty vulnerable," Long added.

"During my early years as an agent, I had to work part-time at the Olin Mathieson Plywood in Winnfield to supplement my income just to pay my monthly bills. Wildlife & Fishery agents are really blessed today with all modern equipment such as radios, cell phones, GPS systems and above all, the support of the local law enforcement and justice departments."

"Back in the 1960's and '70's, it was very hard to obtain a conviction on a violator because a lot of District Attorneys and District Judges were reluctant to prosecute or convict a local citizen on Wildlife & Fisheries game violation laws. Finally, in the late 1970's, a group of us went over to Sicily Island to meet with State Senator J. C. "Sonny" Gilbert to ask him to put some teeth in the Game and Fish laws," Long pointed out.

"Fortunately, Senator Gilbert saw the need to protect our wildlife and fisheries and introduced legislation in the next session that increased the penalties and mandated the local DA'S and Judges to enforce the new law. This was a major factor in seeing our wildlife come back in large numbers in the coming decade."

"One of the proudest accomplishments of my career as an Agent was to see the deer population rebound as well as turkeys. In the '60's and '70's, turkeys were almost non-existent to the hunters in the Piney Woods. If you really knew where to look, you could usually take a young spring gobbler but that was the exception to the rule," Long elaborated.\par }{\plain "I'm a little concerned now that both our deer and wild turkeys population isn't growing as much as they should," Long explained. "I'm not sure if anyone has the answer to that question at this time. We will just have to wait and see where we are population wise with our wildlife in a couple years to see if a trend is taking place."

"One of the things that made our job a little easier was the proliferation of all the hunting clubs in the area," Long confessed. "Basically what happened was that each club sort of policed the others, and a lot of illegal games activities decreased significantly."

"Wildlife and Fisheries Agents now days don't realize how fortunate they really are with the latest communication equipment, state of the art vehicles, GPS equipment and the support of the local justice systems," Long acknowledged. "Most of the guys I worked with are now retired, even some of the younger agents. Typically, an agent retires after he gets in his 20 years."

After Long retired as a Wildlife and Fisheries Agent, he embarked upon a second career that lasted nearly 20 years. That career was working with the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA as it is known by most people.

"The EPA has a test site between Olla and Sikes which monitors pollutants in the air through a series of very sophisticated filters," Long explained. "My job was to collect the filters and send them off to the designated EPA lab for analysis."

"Because most of our winds year around are from the west and northwest, the EPA Scientist could pinpoint where pollutants were being discharged into the air hundreds of miles away from the EPA station near Sikes," Long pointed out. "The EPA people could then determine if some company was violating their air permits relating to discharge of pollutants. However, I had to retire from the EPA job a little earlier than I wanted to because of health issues."

Long, now nearing the age of 70, even with heart problems and shoulder operations, still maintains the grass cutting on his 25 acres. He also manages to continue his passion for turkey hunting even if at a reduced rate compared to that of yesteryears.