The Indiana Court of Appeals handed down a flawed decision on February 2, 2015, suggesting that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does not have authority to regulate any privately-owned wild animals. The case was part of the decade-long fight over whether “canned hunting” of captive whitetail deer should be legalized in Indiana. The appeals court was to decide whether current laws prohibit high-fenced hunting, “canned hunting,” after two lower courts issued conflicting decisions.
In a surprisingly broad decision, the court ruled in a 2-1 vote that DNR has no authority to regulate captive-raised whitetail deer and further asserted that the DNR does not have authority over ANY wild animal that is privately owned. The court’s analysis flies in the face of decades of wildlife management practice in Indiana and is counter to the wildlife-management principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation that have been in practice across the United States for over 150 years. It undermines DNR’s ability to assure ethical treatment and secure containment of privately-owned wild animals, puts the public safety at risk, threatens the environment, and hinders the preservation of Indiana’s wild animals for future generations.
What began as a case about whether current Indiana law prohibits canned hunting of captive-raised deer has ended with a court assessment that eviscerates DNR’s ability to enforce its protective regulations as to any privately-owned wild animal, including tigers and lions, bears, venomous snakes, and threatened and state endangered wild animals. The court proposed that the DNR may not regulate how a privately-owned wild animal is treated, fed, handled, secured, or used. Out-of-state animal buyers and traders now see Indiana as an easy source of supply since DNR’s ability to enforce its protective restrictions has been eroded. The public can no longer be certain that DNR will protect them or prevent and prohibit unethical treatment.
The court’s opinion clearly has “unintended” consequences. This “anything goes” approach is not what anyone in Indiana wants, regardless of where you stand on the canned hunting issue, and it needs to be addressed. The Governor should ensure that DNR continues asserting its authority over all wildlife, including privately-owned wild animals, and the Legislature should pass clarifying language to reinforce what has always been Indiana’s wildlife management approach–conservation of all wildlife resources, both publicly and privately owned.
The State Court of Appeals wrongly decided this case. Governor Pence and the Legislature must fix it.
Barbara Simpson, Indiana Wildlife Federation
Joe Bacon, Indiana Deer Hunters Association
Gene Hopkins, Indiana Sportsmen’s Roundtable
James Turpin, Indiana Quality Deer Management Association
Chuck Bauer, IN Division of the Izaak Walton League of America
Glenn Lange, IN Chapter of the Wildlife Society
Jeff Wells, IN Conservation Officer Organization