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Six trophy-mounted deer heads sit in evidence of illegal hunting at a high-fence deer farm near Peru. Legislation is being considered to expand the practice.

Returning to the hunt

Discredited technique gets new life …

Staunch opposition from Hoosier hunters and wildlife advocates to canned hunting has grown even stronger over the past several months, but several state lawmakers are making yet another wrongheaded attempt to expand high-fenced hunting in Indiana.

In October, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources had to call on Indiana hunters to help when 11 farm-raised deer escaped from a high-fenced hunting operation in Jackson County. There was a chance the escaped deer had been exposed to a confirmed case of chronic wasting disease. The escapees jeopardized Indiana’s entire wild whitetail herd.

“It’s not just a theoretical exercise anymore. It’s a real exercise,” said Gene Hopkins, president of the Indiana Sportsmen’s Roundtable. “We are already having to divert DNR people and money away from what we want them to be doing to prepare for dealing with” chronic wasting disease.

One of the escaped deer is still unaccounted for, according to Hopkins.

House Bill 1194, sponsored by Reps. Matt Ubelhor, R-Bloomfield, Bob Heaton, R-Terre Haute, and Heath VanNatter, R-Kokomo, would allow for the licensing and operation of high-fenced hunting preserves for farm-raised cervidae – deer and elk – and game birds.

The proposed bill is similar to failed legislation from last year that went beyond grandfathering in the four existing captive hunting businesses operating in Indiana and encouraged the expansion of the dubious practice of canned hunting.

The possibility of farm-raised deer escaping from a high-fenced operation and exposing the wild deer herd to chronic wasting disease or even exposing cattle herds to tuberculosis was the nightmare scenario hunting advocates warned about when they opposed the legislation last year.

Hopkins said Wisconsin has already spent $40 million over the last 10 years to control the spread of the disease in that state.

“It’s not just an ethical issue, but now we’re talking about an economic issue,” he said.

The roundtable, which represents the interests of several hunting and sporting groups in Indiana, is also concerned about a related proposal, Senate Bill 340, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn. Hopkins said hunting advocates didn’t request the legislation and the purpose of the bill is unclear.

The bill appears innocuous because it requires that “rules adopted by the natural resources commission concerning hunting must reflect the principles of ethical hunting and fair chase of the wildlife.” But it could be used to open the door to exceptions to traditionally accepted standards of ethical hunting and fair chase.

“It’s dangerous in that it could become a vehicle for amendments,” Hopkins said. “Then we’ve got two bills to fight – one in the House and one in the Senate.”

Attempts to expand canned hunting failed last year thanks in large part to Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. And he received the 2012 Legislative Conservationist of the Year award from the Indiana Wildlife Federation for his role in blocking the canned hunting expansion.

“People who are opposed to this need to call Sen. Long to tell him what they think,” Hopkins said. “We need to quit wasting our time on this issue – something that’s so wrong on so many levels – and move on to something like getting more jobs. This is not an economic development issue. It won’t bring in that much money. But if we get CWD, it will be the exact opposite. It will destroy hunting and drive away all the money hunters bring in.”