INDIANAPOLIS — A Senate committee passed legislation Monday to legalize the state’s existing fenced deer hunting preserves — and allow new ones to open.
Senate Bill 404 now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
The vote comes four months after a Harrison Circuit Court judge ruled that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources didn’t have the authority to regulate a Southern Indiana fenced deer hunting operation. In previous years the Senate postponed action on similar bills while the lawsuit had been pending.
Another court ruling sided with the DNR, which had moved to shutter the operations.
Sen. Carlin Yoder, the bill’s author and chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said with conflicting lawsuits, the General Assembly needs to step in.
“It’s the Wild West out there,” said Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford.
But opponents of the bill say they are concerned about the ethics of hunting deer in fenced-in areas. And they are worry about Chronic Wasting Disease, which is found in deer and elk and causes small lesions on their brains. The disease can only be detected postmortem.
The committee sought to resolve some of the ethical issues with an amendment that passed 6-1. It imposes a number of restrictions, including a 160-acre minimum for new preserves, a prohibition on the hunting of game birds within the preserves, and a requirement for a 50 percent escape cover for a released animal. It also would prohibit hunting an animal within 150 yards of a feeding station.
“Indiana residents don’t want this unsporting mockery in our state,” said Erin Huang, Indiana director of the Humane Society of the United States.
And opponents also said that an infected deer population could mean a big cost for the state.
“Wisconsin spent over $50 million just trying to manage Chronic Wasting Disease to protect their wild deer hunting business,” said Barbara Simpson, executive director of the Indiana Wildlife Foundation. “So this is an economic concern that we don’t often think about.”
Simpson said deer and elk hunting brings in $50 million annually to Indiana and wild deer hunting brings in $314 million. And, she said the sport employs 1,600 people.
Rodney Bruce, who owns one of Indiana’s four shooting preserves, said he has the same concerns.
“No one is more concerned about disease than we are,” Bruce said. We “totally believe in fair chase ethics and oppose canned hunting. We want to help start a dialogue so that we can coexist.”
Supporters say that fenced preserves could also be an economic boon. Since Indiana law does not allow deer to be imported from states with CWD – and that includes most states around Indiana – shooting preserves could be a boost for Hoosier deer farming businesses.
Myron Miller, a deer farmer, also believes that everyone can work together. “If we do this the right way we can complement each other.”
Allie Nash is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
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