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general assembly

Panel OKs fenced-in hunt areas

More restrictive bill affects 5 existing sites; on to House

INDIANAPOLIS –The House Natural Resources Committee voted 6-2 Monday to grandfather existing high-fenced hunting preserves into law.

Preserves would qualify under the bill if they can prove they continuously operated from 2005 to the end of 2012. That number is expected to be five – the amount of current operators known to the Department of Natural Resources.

The closest to Fort Wayne is Midwest Woodlots, run for Ken McIntosh in Pierceton. Others are in Clark, Blackford, Marshall and Harrison counties.

The facilities charge high prices for hunters to come and shoot an elk or deer, possibly with a large rack.

A major amendment was added to Senate Bill 487 to set rules and regulations for the captive hunts. For instance, hunting would occur only from Aug. 15 through Feb. 15, generally during daytime hours; hunters would need a deer license; bag limits wouldn’t apply; the preserve would pay $50 for a transportation tag for every deer killed on the preserve; and no baiting or drugging would be allowed.

The preserves would have to have a minimum of 100 acres and at least an eight-foot fence.

Some preserves have been operating since the early 2000s after receiving guidance from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. In 2005, a new DNR director had a different interpretation of the law. The state Natural Resources Commission then passed rules to prohibit canned hunting.

Several have continued to operate under a legal injunction obtained by the preserve owners, and legislators are looking to end that lawsuit by intervening.

The preserves are a major customer for the state’s 400 deer farms, which support a full-scale expansion of the hunting facilities.

The Indiana Farm Bureau and National Federation of Independent Businesses supported the measure.

“This removes the shadow hanging over existing hunting preserves,” said Bob Kraft, lobbyist for the Farm Bureau. He also said the state sent mixed signals to the preserve owners more than a decade ago.

A number of wildlife and hunting groups testified against the bill, alleging it is unethical to hunt an animal that can’t get away and has been raised by humans on a farm.

“From a moral standpoint, this is just wrong,” said Jerry Wheeler, who noted Hoosiers in several polls have opposed captive hunting. “Wildlife should not be taken from enclosures.”

Rep. Tom Saunders, R-Lewisville, and Rep. Lloyd Arnold, R-Leavenworth, voted against the legislation.

Saunders, who doesn’t hunt or fish, said a number of constituents have approached him and asked him to vote against the bill, including a hunter with a gun rack in his pickup truck.

“They don’t consider this a sport,” he said.

Arnold said he is an avid hunter and believes in fair chase. He voted no due to constituent concerns.

No Democrats on the committee showed up for the hearing or vote.

The bill now heads to the full House where an even more expansive bill passed last year. Its prospects in the Senate are less clear.

nkelly@jg.net

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