For more than a decade, Indiana has been struggling to resolve the issue of canned hunting – the practice of confining docile, farm-bred deer within a high-fenced “preserve” and charging visitors thousands of dollars to shoot them.
During this year's session, the Indiana Senate fell just short of approving a measure that would have imposed a few regulations on the state's four canned-hunting sites but would have legitimized them and perhaps encouraged the opening of others.
Those who backed the bill seemed to be unduly concerned about the economic benefits that flow from this inherently unsporting practice and oddly dismissive of the dangers posed to wild deer herds by the domesticated deer imported from other states.
Imported deer could bring chronic wasting disease, an always-fatal deer malady that could devastate the legitimate hunting industry in Indiana as it has in other states. Some balance may be restored to the discussion this summer. At the request of Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, the legislature has authorized a summer study committee to look carefully at the CWD issue as it relates to the four canned-hunting operations and the nearly 400 deer farms in the state.
Long has spoken caustically about canned hunting in the past and voted against passage of this year's measure. A powerful series about the issue in The Indianapolis Star a few weeks ago galvanized concern.
Last week, the office of Attorney General Greg Zoeller also weighed in, filing a brief urging the Indiana Court of Appeals to recognize that responsibility for regulating the high-fenced hunting operations rightly belongs to the state's Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR tried to shut down canned hunting in 2005, but that effort remained in limbo until last year, when a judge in Harrison County ruled against the DNR, though an Owen County judge previously had ruled in favor of the agency.
In an effort to resolve the matter, the attorney general's appeal of the Harrison County ruling argues that denying DNR oversight on a wildlife-related issue creates “a regulation-free environment where individuals can hunt without a license, out of season, with weapons not typically used for hunting and with blatant disregard for Indiana's safety and ethical hunting standards.”
Preserve operators have argued that their deer are exempt from DNR oversight because they really should be classified as livestock. But if that's the case, the attorney general's office argued, state law would prevent them from being hunted.
It's encouraging to see the legislature giving the issue more thought, and Zoeller is to be commended for taking the issue on in the courts. One way or another, the reckless trafficking in and unethical slaughter of deer have to be brought under control.