Thursday, October 03, 2013
Ind. Decisions - More on "Trial judge rules DNR overstepped in attempt to shut down high-fence deer hunting" [Updated]
The topic of hunting deer on fenced preserves divides many Hoosiers — even, it appears, judges.More from the lengthy story:
A ruling this week in a Harrison County lawsuit only adds fuel to the debate that has been simmering since 2005, when the Department of Natural Resources tried to shut down the 12 high-fence hunting preserves operating in the state at the time.
The new ruling came in a challenge brought by Rodney Bruce, who operates Whitetail Bluff near Corydon. Harrison County Circuit Court Judge John Evans found the DNR overstepped its authority and that deer at facilities such as Bruce’s “are privately owned and not the property of the people of the state of Indiana.”
“Therefore,” the judge wrote, “the animals are not subject to regulation by DNR.”
Evans’ ruling troubled animal rights activists and hunting groups who say they’re worried that it could severely restrict the ability of state wildlife officials to enforce state hunting laws inside the fenced enclosures. They say it also challenges the long-held notion that wildlife is owned by the public and only in special, tightly regulated circumstances can private individuals possess and kill the animals.
The Harrison County decision came 10 months after a judge in Owen County threw out a similar challenge to the DNR’s authority to regulate the private hunting preserves.
If the new ruling settles anything, it is this: Indiana is in dire need of clarity when it comes to laws and regulations regarding fenced hunting.
The are two likely options that can be pursued by either side. One is a request for the Indiana Court of Appeals to determine which judge was right. The other is new legislation that clarifies oversight and regulatory authority.Even more:
“I would encourage the attorney general’s office to take a look at why the Harrison County judge ruled the way he did and to prepare a defense,” said Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield.
But there is no guarantee the attorney general, who serves as the “state’s lawyer,” will take up the fight. A spokesman referred The Star to an Indianapolis attorney who represented DNR in the case.
Indianapolis attorney Joseph Chapelle said the agency is reviewing its options.
“We need time to think about what it means,” he said.
Doug Allman of the Indiana Wildlife Federation and the Indiana Deer Hunters Association said he hopes the DNR appeals the ruling.
He said that the case is troubling because it flies in the face of decades of case law giving the DNR authority to regulate deer behind a fence and the notion that deer are a public resource.
The ruling, Allman worries, could severely restrict or outright limit the ability of the state’s wildlife agency to monitor what goes on in deer farms and to enforce hunting regulations inside the fenced confines of the preserves.
“If the ruling is such that the state cannot regulate these,” Allman said, “then you can do whatever you want on them 365 days a year.”
Allman said that if the DNR didn’t have the authority to regulate deer preserves the gruesome actions of one particular operator would never have come to light — or might not have even been illegal.
With just four preserves currently in business, most of Indiana’s breeders sell their shooter bucks to preserves in other states, such as Illinois and Missouri.Niki Kelly of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette also had a story today, headed "Judge rips curbs on deer hunts." Some quotes:
Most of the farms are small operations, many owned by a single Amish family. But they have some sympathetic supporters in the Indiana legislature, including longtime Indiana agricultural booster Republican Reps. Bill Friend, Macy, and Rep. Matt Ubelhor, Bloomfield.
Earlier this year, Ubelhor introduced a bill geared at grandfathering in the existing high-fence facilities. It was one of several bills that lawmakers considered during the nearly eight years the lawsuit was working its way through the Harrison County court system — some for, other against. None has been adopted.
That’s because the industry also has its detractors, including some powerful ones. At the end of this year’s legislative session, Republican State Sen. Pro Tem David Long killed Ubelhor’s bill when it reached the Senate.
Neither Ubelhor nor Long responded to requests for comment from The Star. But Long had plenty to say about the operations during the last legislative session.
“These are farm-raised deer — not wild animals — fenced in,” Long said this spring. “They bring in some guy to get a trophy and he pays $25,000 to hang it on his wall and say they’re a big game hunter.”
Long called the facilities nothing more than a “slaughterhouse without a roof.”
Harrison Circuit Court Judge John Evans ruled Friday that the deer bought by Whitetail Bluff and other hunting operations are privately owned and not the property of the people of the state of Indiana.ILB: The ILB has now obtained and is posting:
He said the DNR’s actions to try to regulate these hunting activities “constitute an improper exercise by an executive agency of the authority of the Indiana legislature.”
Evans granted a permanent injunction in favor of the hunting preserves.
DNR spokesman Phil Bloom said the ruling conflicts with one issued in Owen County last year in favor of the state.
“The DNR obviously is disappointed in the Harrison court decision, and we’re currently in the process of evaluating that ruling,” he said.
The Indiana legislature could step in and decide the situation – either by legalizing or banning the practice in statute. Efforts over the years on both sides have failed.
During the last two sessions, a bill to open up high-fenced hunting passed the House before being blocked in the Senate by Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.
- Harrison County Judge Evans' 9/27/13, 2-page order and judgment that concludes:
The deer purchased by Whitetail Bluff and offspring thereof, are privately owned and are not the property of the people of the State of Indiana. Therefore the animals are not subject to
regulation by DNR by virtue of the provisions of Indiana Code §14-22-1-1. DNR's actions seeking to regulate Whitetail Bluff's guided hunting activities constitute an improper exercise by an executive agency of the authority of the Indiana legislature contrary to Indiana Constitution Article 3, Section 1.
There are no issues of material fact. For the reasons stated herein, Whitetail Bluff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. This Court: grants Whitetail Bluff's motion for summary judgment; denies DNR's motion for summary judgment; enters this declaratory judgment; and, orders its preliminary injunction to be permanent.
- Owen County Judge Nardi's 11/29/12 2-page summary judgment.