Hunting Preserve Regulations Advised

October 8, 2014

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette
October 8, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers on an interim study committee voted 8-3 Tuesday to recommend that the General Assembly legalize and regulate high-fenced hunting preserves in the 2015 session.

The specific requirements and logistics of a bill would be hammered out starting in January. Similar attempts have failed in recent years.

Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, offered the proposal instead of having the Indiana Department of Natural Resources do another study and come up with its own plan.

“We really need legislation enacted that clarifies the situation we are in,” he said.

The Agriculture and Natural Resources Study Committee heard nearly five hours of testimony recently on the issue of disease in captive deer herds. It’s the latest chapter in the decade-long debate over high-fenced hunting in Indiana.

These hunting preserves raise and sometimes buy deer with big racks that are released into large confined spaces, and hunters can shoot them for high prices.

A lawsuit by several facility owners has been pending for nine years. The Indiana Court of Appeals is weighing whether the DNR has authority over privately held deer.

The case will likely move to the Indiana Supreme Court no matter which way the court rules.

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-?Shelbyville, tried to get representatives from the In­diana Board of Animal Health to agree that chronic wasting disease is more likely to show up in the wild than at deer farms or preserves.

But they demurred, saying it could happen either way.

Eberhart then pressed DNR Director Cameron Clark on the issue. In the past two legislative sessions, the agency has mostly taken a hands-off approach due to the pending lawsuit.

But it was that agency that kick-started the controversy in the first place.

In August 2005, then-DNR Director Kyle Hupfer announced after extensive study and hearings that the existing shooting preserves were not allowed under a game breeder’s license that was being used.

To remove confusion, he sought and passed administrative rules outlawing high-fenced hunting, and Gov. Mitch Daniels signed them.

Existing preserve owners sought an injunction to keep operating, and four preserves still exist today.

Clark, an attorney, said that if he had been in charge at the time, he would have shut them down because he didn’t think they were allowed under the laws and rules that existed.

He also said the issue ultimately should be resolved by the legislature, not the courts.

Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, told the committee that she visited a high-fenced hunting operation last week and said it was helpful for her to understand the industry.

“I was pretty amazed at the way things were handled,” she said, adding that she and several others drove around on rough terrain for 90 minutes to two hours and saw only two or three deer.

“I had a vision of walking into a fenced area and six deer would be standing there, and you would get your gun out. It wasn’t like that at all,” Leising said.

There were 60 deer on the 120-acre property when she visited, she said.

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