NEWS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Laura M. Nirenberg, Esq.
With deadly deer disease expected to hit Indiana, public interest organization
urges state wildlife regulators to ban coyote killing contests
LA PORTE, IN, December 27 – Currently, two* coyote killing contests are scheduled in Indiana in early 2019. Coyote killing contests/derbies award prizes to teams of hunters for killing the largest number of coyotes and the largest individual coyote. [*CORRECTION: At the time of this release, CWE was alerted to the existence of two coyote killing contests, but CWE’s subsequent research has uncovered a whopping SEVEN contests in Indiana in 2019.] These competitions disrupt the vital role coyotes play in healthy ecosystems, encourage mass slaughter, and glorify killing at the expense of ethics.
The Center for Wildlife Ethics (“CWE”) is urging the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (“IDNR”) to intervene and end coyote killing contests given the agency’s concerns surrounding the imminent threat of Chronic Wasting Disease (“CWD”) in Indiana’s white-tailed deer herd.
As reported in the Indianapolis Star (December 22, 2018), CWD is a deadly, potentially devastating disease that will be “a permanent drain on resources to manage”. IDNR, the regulatory agency tasked with preserving and protecting Indiana’s wildlife resources for the benefit of all citizens, should ban all contest killings of natural predators given the whole state is simultaneously on high alert for the arrival of CWD in its deer population.
Unlike hunters, natural predators such as coyotes deliberately target the most vulnerable and unhealthy deer and other prey animals. According to Sharon Vogel, CWE’s Senior Biologist, “Vulnerable individuals in the deer population are those most likely to succumb to or spread Chronic Wasting Disease (“CWD”) and other wildlife illnesses. The lethal removal of large numbers of predator species given the looming threat of CWD seems reckless.”
Concerns about the upcoming Indiana coyote killing contests should be directed to IDNR Deputy Director, Samantha DeWester at: email@example.com
Details about the upcoming coyote killing contests may be found here.
Founded in 1998, The Center for Wildlife Ethics is a 501c3 public interest organization that champions effective environmental activism by targeting systemic harm that sustains the violence and exploitation of animals and their habitats. Additional information can be obtained by sending a detailed request to Laura@centerforwildlifeethics.org.
CLICK THE BUTTON BELOW TO ADD YOUR NAME TO CWE’s PETITION TO IDNR:
On November 19th, I ran a quick errand and returned home to see a man running through my backyard, in broad daylight, pushing some type of cart. Alarmed by this unwelcome and unlawful intrusion, I ran out on the deck and asked him what he was doing.
This stranger, visibly angry that I was questioning him and challenging this trespass, started shouting about his need to retrieve a deer he killed.
The hunter indignantly insisted I wasn’t “supposed to be home”. The fact that the stranger seemed to know my schedule and addressed me by name was incredibly unnerving. He had apparently killed the deer in my backyard and rightfully assumed that I would not grant him legal permission to enter my property to retrieve the buck.
I took his photo and demanded he leave the property. I called my husband, Ken, notified both the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (“IDNR”) and the local sheriff’s office, and then went to speak with my neighbor whose land the man supposedly had permission to hunt. She wasn’t home or didn’t answer the door.
I photographed the hunter’s truck and license plate to share with law enforcement. After arriving back home, I went out to determine how much damage the hunter caused.
The search did not take long. I found a magnificent buck near a large puddle of blood next to a well-worn walking trail right outside our back door.
There was no blood trail to be found outside of the immediate area where the deer collapsed which indicates this deer was shot while on our land.
Along the fence line dividing the properties, approximately 25 feet from a visible “no trespassing” sign, sat a half empty bottle of beer – beer the hunter was presumably drinking while he sat on the fence line, watching and waiting for me to leave the house that day.
When law enforcement arrived, Ken and I led them to the deer’s remains. Horribly shaken by the confrontation with the trespasser and the deer’s death, I reluctantly permitted DNR to take the deer but insisted that the antlers should be removed first. I was not comfortable allowing this poor deer to become someone’s wall ornament.
With a heavy heart, Ken grabbed the hunter’s deer cart and assisted the conservation officer (“CO”) in loading the deer in the back of IDNR’s truck. He then proceeded with the ghastly task of removing the animal’s antlers.
While filling out my victim’s statement, the CO mentioned that he believed he had a run-in with this hunter in the past. (Sure enough, a quick Internet search revealed this trespasser had previous violations including the illegal taking of game and shooting from/on/across a highway in 2017.)
Before leaving, the CO assured me that misdemeanor charges would be filed against the hunter for his intrusion on our private property.
A week following this incident, I called the CO's supervisor for an update about pending charges against this man. While the Lieutenant told me charges were being filed, he was unable to provide copies of the investigative records and any prepared report(s).
Instead, I - the victim in this matter – was instructed to file an Indiana Public Access to Records request, a process that can, and often does, take the agency months to complete. To add insult to injury, the costs for any copies of records generated by this information request are to be imposed on me before any documents will be released.
The Lieutenant also stressed, when asked if the hunter was still able to hunt, that IDNR cannot revoke hunting privileges. This, of course, begs the question: if the agency that issues licenses cannot revoke hunting privileges, who can?
My family has been severely harmed by the hunter’s outrageous behavior; our peace has been shattered.
We valued that deer greatly, alive, and warmly welcomed him on this small, safe haven of land. We cultivated a trusting relationship with him, and all the animals who frequent our property. We delight in their presence.
The deer sightings on our property are now rare. We are left with a lingering reminder of this stranger’s disregard for the law, his sense of entitlement, and his blatant violation of our sense of safety and security.
UPDATE: According to Mycase.IN.gov, the hunter has been charged with a criminal misdemeanor (Fishing/hunting/trapping/chasing on Private Land without Landowner Consent; I.C. § 14-22-10-1).
Following intense public outcry, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) Director, Cameron Clark, withdrew a proposal for a bobcat hunting season from the agency’s biennial rule package in May, 2018. Nonetheless, DNR’s subsequent actions strongly suggest the agency has not given up on this proposition.
In November, CWE submitted a letter to Indiana’s Governor Holcomb, urging him to address DNR’s latest efforts to mobilize hunters and trappers and lobby politicians for a bobcat hunting bill during the upcoming 2019 legislative session. CWE contends that the closed-door meeting, co-hosted by DNR, was meant as a workaround to the public’s opposition to the bobcat season in DNR’s rule package.
Presumably in response to CWE’s letter to the Governor, CWE received a carefully-worded response from DNR claiming that the agency “…has not hosted any meetings to advance another proposed bobcat season”.
For argument sake, let’s just ignore that this statement conflicts with Indiana Representative Ron Bacon’s letter that clearly states Representatives and DNR “will be hosting a meeting to discuss implementing a bobcat season.”
DNR’s other point is deliberately misleading. Yes, DNR will not be “proposing” another bobcat season via its rulemaking process. As we know, the agency’s attempts to promulgate a bobcat hunting/trapping rule failed.
The agency’s carefully worded form letters, similar to its wildlife policy, are routinely vague and contrived by communication specialists skilled at perfecting controversial messages while avoiding any political hot buttons.
And, speaking of “political hot buttons”, as subscribers may recall, “harvesting bobcats”, was one of the issues initially scheduled on the agenda for DNR’s Communication Workshop on October 30, 2018. This topic was removed from the agenda soon after CWE’s Director formally registered for this course and replaced with sand hill crane hunting.
What is happening?
Are you planning to visit an Indiana State Park on November 12, 13, 26, and 27, 2018? Think again. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (“IDNR”) has once again improperly authorized various state parks to be closed to the public for rifle-deer-hunting. Therefore, this issue is time-sensitive and will exclude anyone from visiting Indiana’s state parks on these days unless they happen to be a pre-registered licensed deer hunter who was chosen in a “random-drawing”.
What's wrong with this?
The IDNR’s stewardship role is to preserve and protect public properties such as state parks for Indiana citizens and future generations. These are the areas that we the public utilize and enjoy the most.
IDNR claims park closures are necessary because of a wildlife “emergency”. According to IDNR’s Emergency Rule published July 4, 2018, deer are causing measurable ecological harm. However, IDNR’s dubious “emergency” claims are belied by the fact that the agency opted to ignore said “emergency” for five months until deer hunting season began.
It is the agency's responsibility to prove an ecological necessity exists on 17 state park properties and then address these situations themselves. Even if the need for some form of wildlife “management” had been proven, IDNR cannot legally delegate this work to others. More specifically, IDNR cannot delegate this “management” duty to privately licensed, rifle-deer-hunters. Doing so explicitly violates the agency’s stewardship mandate and existing law.
Rifle-deer-hunting on state parks has been repeatedly enabled by IDNR's misuse and abuse of the temporary rule (or “Emergency Rule”) process. IDNR’s improper use of this process is a serious and ongoing problem. It denies the public’s right to due process as it circumvents the mandated rulemaking requirements of public notice and the public's right to participate in and comment on such proposed rules.
The two critical statutes IDNR relies on to enable rifle access to state parks and historic sites are nowhere to be found in the Department's Emergency Rule authorization. More importantly, neither statute grants legal authority to IDNR to deviate from the public's participation as required in the rulemaking process.
Is this something new?
No. The agency has been and continues to act improperly without any meaningful oversight. For the third[i] consecutive year, the agency has acted without legal authority by using the Emergency Rule process to allow rifle-deer-hunting on public lands.
The Emergency Rule process has been abused for mere political convenience and not because of any actual ecological condition at the parks. The end result is that public park patrons are excluded from their own public lands AND from the policy making process that resulted in the closure of parks to the public in the first place.
So what’s the result?
The public has no access to these cherished public lands when preferred access is given to privately licensed rifle-deer-hunters.
In November 2017, CWE filed a complaint in court challenging the legitimacy of the agency’s action, specifically, IDNR's improper use of the Emergency Rule process. CWE argued IDNR flagrantly disregarded the law and lacks the legal authority to enable rifle-deer-hunting on public lands via the Emergency Rule process.
How did we get here?
In 2016, the Indiana General Assembly adopted a law limiting rifle-deer-hunting to privately owned property during the firearms season. Because rifle use was expressly limited to private property, no rulemaking was required for IDNR to implement the law. Yet, based on all information[ii] available to-date, rifle-deer-hunting was permitted on public lands in 2016.
In 2017, the Indiana legislature again amended the rifle-deer-hunting statute, but the limitation of rifle hunting to private lands only remained in effect. The General Assembly’s failure to expand rifle-deer-hunting during the amendment process is a clear indication of legislative intent to limit use to private lands during the firearm season.
In spite of the clear and expressed limitations, in 2017, IDNR used the Emergency Rule process to improperly expand rifle-deer-hunting to public lands and into other hunting seasons. In so doing, the IDNR deliberately and intentionally defied the law.
In 2018, the legislature yet again acted to amend the law presumably to spare IDNR any further embarrassment or inconvenience. Cloaked as “retroactive” and “emergency” legislation, the rifle-deer-hunting statute was pushed through with remarkable efficiency to avoid any meaningful scrutiny of the substantive changes that served to expand rifle use to public lands during any season[iii] “established by the department”. Importantly, this legislative amendment also tasks the IDNR to “adopt rules under IC 4-22-2 to authorize the use of rifles on public property”.
Where we stand.
To-date, IDNR has failed to follow its own rule-making procedures to implement the rifle-deer-hunting statute and is yet again relying improperly on the Emergency Rule process to provide preferred access to state park lands to privately licensed deer hunters. Meanwhile the public, those who fund these treasured properties, has again been frozen out of the parks and the decision-making process entirely.
CWE will continue its efforts to end IDNR’s persistent abuse of the Emergency Rule process – deliberate agency acts that serve to nullify both the law and IDNR’s directive for public land stewardship.
[i] IDNR has improperly used the Emergency Rule process to grant privately licensed hunters and trappers access to Indiana State Parks, historic sites, and reservoir properties for more than ten years. This blog post, however, is focused specifically on the malfeasance surrounding the rifle-deer-hunting statute.
[ii] IDNR has yet to provide any discovery in this litigation or answer CWE’s initial or first amended complaint. One would reasonably believe if CWE’s allegations were untrue and the agency possessed the evidence to defend this case on the merits, IDNR would quickly and willingly offer the evidence to dispose of this case.
[iii] Deer hunting seasons span 4 ½ - 5 months annually.
Indiana citizens who went to great lengths to submit comments and attend public hearings to vocalize opposition to IDNR’s rule package (#17-436), rightfully feel betrayed by the latest news of IDNR’s upcoming workshop and recent meeting with hunters and trappers apparently meant to garner support for the implementation of a bobcat hunting and trapping season. This, despite the Department’s recent public announcement that the agency would not adopt a bobcat season.
Some proponents of a bobcat season contend these animals are abundant and allegedly causing problems with domestic animals and other “nuisance” complaints. As evidenced by IDNR’s own “Proposed Limited Bobcat Harvest Season FAQs” these claims are unsubstantiated.
Not surprisingly, this information was recently removed from the agency’s webpage shortly following CWE’s blog post criticizing the agency’s rule package. Among the information that IDNR has taken offline is the following:
“We get very few reports of bobcats being a nuisance or causing damage. The proposal to have a limited season is not because of complaints or conflicts with bobcats…”
(IDNR’s FAQ page was removed from its website, but you can view it in its entirety here.)
Contrived bobcat conflicts fail to justify any need for a hunting and trapping season as any allegedly "problematic" bobcats can legally be managed under the authority of a “nuisance wild animal control permit” (312 IAC 9-3-18.1(a)).
Here’s how you can help Indiana Bobcats:
· Write to Governor Eric Holcomb at:
Office of the Governor
Indianapolis, IN 46204-2797
Or contact Governor Holcomb via webform at: https://www.in.gov/gov/2752.htm
· And/or contact Governor Holcomb's press secretary Rachel Hoffmeyer, 317-914-5634, firstname.lastname@example.org to raise awareness about the IDNR's recent actions.
· Urge the Governor to instruct IDNR’s Director, Cameron Clark, to honor the spirit of the agency’s act in May 2018 when the bobcat hunting and trapping provisions were withdrawn from the rule package. Request that IDNR cease and desist all activity that directly or indirectly serves to advance the implementation of a bobcat hunting or trapping season.
· Be sure to maintain copies of all correspondence with Governor Holcomb or his Press Secretary for future reference.
Center for Wildlife Ethics is pleased to announce that experienced wildlife and environmental advocate Karen Purves has joined the organization’s Board of Directors.
Karen contributes to CWE's life-saving mission in a variety of ways. In addition to serving as a board member, Karen brings a creative and strategic perspective to the organization's various initiative and provides expertise in communication and engagement with the wildlife advocacy community as well as external audiences.
Karen brings a diverse and practical set of skills to CWE, which she has developed working with local government, in the non-profit sector, and in founding her own organizations. While she has spent much of her career specializing in communications, she has a great deal of experience advancing environmental and sustainability initiatives, working in animal protection, and coaching and curriculum development. Based in Las Vegas, NV, Karen is an energizing and award-winning public speaker and is internationally-recognized for her work at her company, innovative impact.
In her well-rounded career, Karen has applied her Master's degree in Environmental Public Policy from the Claremont Graduate School. She is also a graduate of Pepperdine University, where she obtained a Bachelor's degree in business administration.
As many subscribers will recall, IDNR proposed a bobcat hunting and trapping season earlier this year in its rule package (LSA #17-436). Following strong opposition during the public comment phase of the rule-making process - including your efforts - the provisions implementing a bobcat season were withdrawn by the agency.
Despite IDNR’s public claims that it had no immediate plan to reintroduce another proposal, its recent actions directly and deliberately contradict this claim in two important ways.
First, on October 2nd, 2018, IDNR hosted a meeting of more than 50 hunters and trappers who gathered in Velpen, Indiana specifically to renew the discussion about implementing a bobcat hunting/trapping season. This meeting was co-hosted by Indiana State Representatives Bartels, Bacon and Landauer.
Apparently, Indiana citizens who value these animals alive never received an invitation or notice about this event.
Second, IDNR is conducting a communication workshop* on October 30th, 2018 entitled: "Communicating Your Message – Workshop for Wildlife Professionals." Topics include “Working with the Media about Controversial Topics” and “The Science of how People Interpret Messaging”, including, more specifically, “harvesting bobcat”.
Workshop attendees will be tasked with preparing a message for specific audiences, ostensibly, the non-hunting public, to apparently assist IDNR in reframing the message to manipulate the public with its misguided ideas about the alleged need for a hunting season.
Another meeting between hunters, trappers, and IDNR is tentatively planned in Ferdinand, Indiana. No further details are available as IDNR is allegedly keeping this meeting quiet to limit attendance to local citizens – presumably code for the recreational killing crowd. It is anticipated that Indiana legislators will also be in attendance so backroom lobbying can continue without any distraction or noise from attendees with opposing viewpoints.
Since it is unclear if organizations finding a bobcat hunting and trapping season scientifically unfounded or individuals morally opposed to the expansion of recreational killing will ever be informed of and/or welcomed at these upcoming events, such gatherings strongly infer an "us" vs. "them" mentality. These meetings highlight the agency’s preference to ignore the input of 96% of the Indiana citizens who do not hunt.
* “This event is part of a series of formal Continuing Educational Workshops presented by the Indiana Chapter of the Wildlife Society and Indiana Society of American Foresters in conjunction with Purdue University, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.”
On September 23, 2018, the Center for Wildlife Ethics filed a Reply in Support of the Petition Seeking Transfer of Liddle v. Clark, et al., to the Indiana Supreme Court. The Reply brief, limited to 1,000 words by the IN Appellate Trial Rules, focuses on the companion animal damages issue, specifically, the Indiana Appellate Court’s unprincipled distinction of animate/living versus inanimate property.
Liddle’s Reply can be found here.
Center for Wildlife Ethics has petitioned Indiana’s highest court to hear an appeal in Liddle v. Clark, a case involving the death of a park patron’s dog in a body-gripping trap at Versailles State Park. The trial court found the Indiana Department of Natural Resources negligent for failing to warn the public about the hidden, deadly devices. However, the court failed to acknowledge that the property negligently destroyed in this case was unique and irreplaceable – a beloved, senior, family dog – the value of which cannot be measured by some fictitious “market”.
The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s unprincipled distinction between living/animate and inanimate property. And while the law allows plaintiffs to recover sentimental damages for nonliving property that has no “market” value (e.g., family heirlooms, etc.), the courts failed to extend that same valuation to companion animals.
The absurd result of this ruling is that an irreplaceable photo of our plaintiff’s dog, Copper, could be valued higher than the actual dog herself in the State of Indiana.
CWE petitions the Indiana Supreme Court to reconcile this untenable legal position and recognize that the actual value of a companion animal is often sentimental in nature and stems entirely from the shared bond between the guardian and his or her beloved dog.
You can learn more about the appeal in our latest video:
This month, Center for Wildlife argued an appeal in its state park dog trapping case, Liddle v. Clark, before the Indiana Court of Appeals. The oral argument was well-attended, an indication that the legal issues of damages for the loss of a companion animal and public interest standing [challenging IDNR’s reckless policies] are matters of particular public importance.
CWE was pleased to learn that The Indiana Lawyer published an article about the appeal describing the critical issues raised in this case and the exchanges that occurred between the attorneys and judges in the courtroom. CWE is grateful for this coverage, but we feel compelled to note a few important clarifications.
CWE has consistently argued:
- Fair Market Value (“FMV”) analysis cannot apply in this case.
- FMV analysis is “[un]fair” because it fails to make Ms. Liddle whole – i.e., it fails to satisfy the primary legal and policy directive guiding tort law.
- No “market” exists for Copper – an elderly, mixed-breed, sterilized, family companion animal.
- Copper’s “value” to Melodie is based entirely on their loving companionship and shared experiences. The lower court’s FMV damage award ignores this reality.
- IDNR, as a steward of public lands, lacks the statutory authority to authorize commercial fur trappers to maintain traps and privately profit off the sale of the skins of animals captured on our public lands. This fact cannot be changed by a rule adoption.
CWE will continue to provide updates on the progress of this important litigation. The full oral argument in this appeal can be viewed here.
We are pleased to announce that there has been an exciting development in the CWE’s ongoing litigation, Liddle v. Clark, et al. As you may be aware, Ms. Liddle filed a lawsuit against DNR (Indiana Department of Natural Resources) when her dog, Copper, became ensnared and died in a raccoon trap hidden in Versailles State Park. This situation occurred as a result of DNR’s practice that allowed commercial fur trappers to use public lands for trapping without informing the public.
Yes, this policy enabled trappers to scatter these deadly devices throughout Indiana State Parks without so much as a cautionary warning of the obvious danger to families (and pets).
On April 25th, 2018, the Indiana Court of Appeals’ Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik scheduled an oral argument that will enable CWE to further develop two important issues: 1) that the trial court improperly limited the value of Ms. Liddle’s beloved companion to the value of a replacement dog, and 2) that the trial court wrongfully rejected the argument that DNR’s policy that allows commercial fur trapping on state park properties is an improper use of these public lands.
This appeal will build on the success of CWE’s victory in 2017, in which the Marion County Superior Court #2 ruled that the State of Indiana was negligent for failing to make any effort to warn park patrons that their employee, a commercial fur trapper, had maintained hidden wildlife traps throughout Versailles State Park.
This appeal has great significance for animals and the public’s use of state parks.
As a public interest organization, CWE is both honored and grateful that the Appellate Court appreciates the significance of Ms. Liddle’s claims and welcomes further discussion surrounding these important issues.
On May 25, 2018, the Indiana Court of Appeals granted Liddle’s Verified Motion to Allow Appellant Thirty Minutes for Oral Argument. The oral argument will take place on June 8, 2018 at 1:30 (ET) and is scheduled for web-cast at: www.IN.gov/judiciary.
Time is running out to submit public comments on the rule package proposed by the Indiana Natural Resources Commission (NRC). The Center for Wildlife Ethics (CWE) has already warned about the NRC’s proposed and misguided bobcat season and the agency’s intent to mandate wild animal control operators to kill every raccoon, opossum, and coyote they encounter.
If you haven’t already joined CWE in opposition to NRC’s rule proposals, please consider speaking out against the NRC’s reckless plan to open State Park Lands for commercial fur trapping.
Current law rightfully prohibits hunting and trapping on State Park Lands (312 IAC 9-2-11). State Park properties are for the enjoyment of everyone and should not be used for violent pursuits that make the land less safe for park patrons or the parks’ wild inhabitants. Yet the NRC has proposed a rule change that betrays the public’s trust and turns the prohibition on its head by allowing numerous species to be trapped by private individuals as well as park employees.
NRC’s justification for this rule provision lacks any legitimacy.
IDNR employee’s already have the ability to manage “nuisance” animal concerns. (CWE’s members are already aware that this agency has launched a conflation campaign to disguise all trapping violence as “nuisance” animal control.)
The language of the rule purports to limit trapping to situations where an animal is “causing damage or threatening to cause damage or creating a public safety or health threat.” However, nothing in the rule requires substantial evidence of any “nuisance,” damage, or alleged health or safety threat. Trappers are not required to explore and exhaust nonlethal alternatives.
The rule’s conditions for trapping are too vague and open-ended to act as an effective or enforceable limitation. Permission to kill an animal that is “threatening to cause damage” will inevitably be interpreted as permission to trap any animal that is present in the park.
This rule provides ample monetary incentive for IDNR employees to contrive nonexistent nuisance or threat in order to create the conditions to justify commercial fur trapping.
The NRC doesn’t even bother pretending that opening public lands to trapping activities isn’t about commercial gain. If it were true that the agency was motivated by “nuisance” concerns, it would adhere to the current legal standard that prohibits trappers from selling, bartering, gifting, or trading the furs of “nuisance” animals they kill. The proposed rule includes no such prohibition, so trappers are absolutely free to trap for profit on public property.
This proposed rule is ripe for nepotism and civil service abuses. IDNR—the agency tasked with serving as stewards and premises custodians of public lands and wildlife—cannot simultaneously protect state properties and wild animals while profiteering as well. The ability to trap animals on public land and sell their furs for profit should not be a job perk for IDNR employees, nor should State Park Property Managers be able to do favors for their friends by extending them permission to trap on park properties.
The NRC/IDNR lacks the necessary statutory authority to permit commercial fur trappers to maintain lethal traps on state park and historic site properties and sell the pelts from animals killed. A rule revision cannot remedy this legal reality.
CWE is currently litigating the illegality of trapping on public lands in the Indiana Court of Appeals. CWE has also filed a lawsuit against the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, the agency tasked in Governor Pence’s 2013 Executive Order to approve all proposed rule-making packages.
Once again, please take a moment to submit a public comment opposing the use of our State Parks and other public properties for fur trapping. Comments on NRC’s rule package must be submitted by March 23, 2018.
Scenarios like the following arise frequently, especially in the spring months. Imagine you are the property owner faced with this dilemma:
You knew there was a spot near the roof in need of repair and you should have sealed it up before winter, but you procrastinated. It was just a matter of time before a mother raccoon decided your attic would serve as a suitable den site to raise her young. You can now hear the raccoon family stirring around upstairs. You’ve never had a problem sharing your neighborhood with the local wildlife, but you know wild animals shouldn’t be in your attic.
What do you do about this unwanted intrusion? Chances are you search Google for “wildlife removal” or some similar search term and obtain the phone numbers of local trappers, known as Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators (NWCOs). So you choose a NWCO who comes to your house, offers to trap the whole family of raccoons, and informs you that he accepts cash or check. Upon further inquiry about his trapping methods, you learn that he intends to kill them by blunt force. You immediately recoil at the thought of this mother and her babies dying for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This cruelty hits you especially hard because you know it was your failure to repair the roof that caused all of this. What do you do?
Since you are reading the Center for Wildlife Ethics blog, it’s a safe bet you’ll attempt to hire another NWCO, one who is willing to use non-lethal alternatives for managing wildlife intrusions.
But if the Indiana Natural Resources Commission (NRC) has its way, making the sensible choice and hiring a service that prioritizes animal welfare and implements non-violent, permanent solutions to common wildlife problems will no longer be a legally permitted option.
The NRC is currently accepting public comments to its proposed rule package that imposes a mandatory kill requirement on all NWCOs who address raccoon, opossum, and coyote conflicts (312 IAC 9-10-11).
The NRC claims a mandatory kill provision is justified because raccoons and opossums can “become a nuisance when they get into attics and other buildings.”
Notably though, killing all trespassing wildlife does nothing to repair an access point in an attic or minimize the desirability of other unnatural wildlife attractants.
Vilifying these wild animals as nuisances and sentencing them to death for their mere presence on one’s property is punitive. It ignores the underlying problem, what served to attract the animal to the location to begin with. While the NWCO may drive off to the next job with a truck full of raccoon pelts, he leaves behind the open trash can, missing vent cover, structural disrepair, or other unnatural wildlife attractant that not only instigated the initial conflict, but will inevitably interest yet another unfortunate animals.
Mandatory kill provisions perpetuate a cycle of violence that is already rampant in Indiana. As the NRC openly admits, trappers “are already euthanizing the majority of these animals.” (It should be noted that killing healthy animals for human convenience is not “euthanasia,” but that’s another discussion).
NRC’s proposed rule furthers the political and economic agenda of unscrupulous NWCOs and their trade associations, who typically have little interest in exploring non-lethal solutions and rely on reoccurring wildlife conflicts to help keep them in business and boost profits.
This irresponsible rule normalizes brutal practices and sanitizes the industry’s pro-killing agenda in the minds of the public. When faced with a concerned and compassionate customer, NWCOs could claim, “We have no choice in the matter. State law requires us to kill these animals.”
The NRC’s proposed rule change is so punitive it not only prohibits the relocation of these species but also prohibits releasing raccoons, opossums, and coyotes on-site and within the animal’s own established territories.
The NRC supports its morally bankrupt position by contending that raccoon and coyote populations are high. Yet the agency has no similar justification for another section in the rule package (312 IAC 9-10-4) that encourages/enables private individuals to breed these same species in captivity.
Surely, if there are so many raccoons, opossums and coyotes that the state must require NWCOs to kill every single one they trap, it would be hypocritical for NRC to allow individuals to profit commercially by breeding more of these same allegedly overpopulated animals.
Obviously, the Center for Wildlife Ethics staunchly opposes NRC’s mandatory kill provision (and this outrageous rule package in its entirety). NWCOs and/or property owners must have the legal right to contract for and implement non-violent solutions to common wildlife problems. Greed and political expedience cannot trump this legal reality, nor should it take priority over decency and common sense.
Please join CWE in opposition to the NRC’s rule package. Take a moment to submit a personalized comment here to defend Indiana’s wildlife. The public comment period closes at the end of day on March 23, 2018.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is currently accepting public comments to a lengthy and convoluted rule package. Although CWE is working to oppose this rule package in its entirety, our members are particularly concerned about one new and troubling issue, specifically, the agency’s push for bobcat hunting and trapping.
IDNR recently released an FAQ sheet to support a bobcat season in Indiana. While IDNR’s publications typically consist of no more than agency propaganda, its responses to these FAQs actually demonstrate many of the reasons a bobcat season is an ill-advised, unnecessary and an unscientific idea.
For instance, IDNR has no idea which parts of the state “support strong, self-sustaining bobcat populations.” At the very least, an agency should have a firm handle on such analysis prior to proposing a bobcat season.
IDNR stresses that it will closely monitor and record the killing of bobcats, yet the same regulatory package that reintroduces hunting and trapping of these animals also proposes relaxing the reporting obligations for fur buyers. The agency also touts “strict limits” on bobcat killing, yet proposes no penalty provision to discourage wrongdoing.
IDNR’s FAQ contends that “Trapping is highly regulated and strictly enforced by Indiana Conservation Officers”. While trapping proponents frequently repeat this claim, it is a falsehood. Wildlife trapping regulations are notoriously weak, extremely difficult to enforce, and depend almost exclusively on self-reporting by the trappers. Trappers scatter their hidden traps across the vast lands they trap on. Since there is no requirement for trappers to disclose trap locations, there is virtually no way for Conservation officers to detect violations. Additionally, IDNR’s Law Enforcement Division employs 214 Conservation officers, or just one Conservation Officer for every 170 square miles.
IDNR readily admits that the proposed season on bobcats is not due to nuisance or damage (livestock predation, etc.) complaints -- two primary “offenses” that quickly land any predator species on a wildlife agency’s hit list.
The proposed season will only benefit hunters or trappers who intend to sell or keep bobcat skins. According to the proposal, bobcat carcasses cannot be eaten and must be relinquished to the agency. Consequently, IDNR cannot sanitize the killing by creating one of its contrived “hunters for the hungry” programs – a favorite marketing tool used to disguise violence as altruism.
So given that bobcats are not in conflict with humans and that IDNR has no legitimate reason to open season on the species, why is IDNR targeting bobcats?
One explanation is that wildlife agencies including IDNR are desperate to salvage hunting as a recreational pastime.
The popularity of hunting in the U.S. peaked in 1982 and has been in steady decline ever since. According to figures published by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, less than 4% of the population hunts today and the recent drop has been a sharp one. Between 2011 and 2016, the number of hunters nationwide dropped by 2.2 million people.
Simple demographics are one reason for this decline. So-called baby boomers, the generation aged 54 to 72, make up the largest segment of hunters and they are simply “aging out” of these deadly activities. Wildlife agencies have made attempts to reverse this trend, but reduced licensing fees and increased killing opportunities are not enough to entice older hunters. Furthermore, the average hunter fits a distinct profile: rural, white (>90%), and male (>70%). Meanwhile, the U.S. population is trending in the other direction: becoming more urban and diverse.
Desperate to save their primary source of revenue and relevance, wildlife agencies and the hunting industry have poured considerable resources and effort into “R3” initiatives: recruit new hunters; retain current hunters; and reactivate former hunters. In spite of these desperate efforts, R3 has largely failed. The group gaining the most access to the benefits of R3 efforts is routinely the children of hunters – the same kids most likely to take up hunting even without R3.
Indiana has led the way in the failure of R3, losing more hunters than any other state between 1960 and 2016: approximately 340,000 or roughly the entire populations of Fort Wayne and Bloomington, IN combined!
So how does this relate to bobcats?
Wildlife agencies will attempt to engage disinterested hunters and recruit new hunters by offering uncommon killing experiences, including the exploitation of previously protected species. The bobcats who will suffer under IDNR’s proposal are just the latest pawns used to resuscitate an antiquated activity that finds itself on life support in the 21st century. The agency’s commercialization of this species is particularly egregious since it literally sacrifices the lives of bobcats merely to boost waning interest in hunting and trapping.
If you would like to submit a public comment on behalf of Indiana’s bobcats, you may do so here. The public comment period closes on March 23, 2018. Please also consider attending two public meetings which will be held in Indiana in March to vocalize your opposition to the rule.
In 2016, the Indiana General Assembly enacted I.C. § 14-22-2-8 -- “Deer hunting; permitted firearms; required report”. This statute (subsection (b)(1)) limited rifle use to privately owned property during the firearms season. In 2017, this statute was amended by the legislature but the limiting provision remained intact.
Despite this clear legislative mandate, IDNR repeatedly permitted rifle access to public lands for deer hunting purposes while denying access to the public in both 2016 and 2017.
On January 10th, 2018, the Indiana Senate Judiciary Committee passed (8-1) Senate Bill 20 – a bill that again amends I.C. § 14-22-2-8. Unlike the previous versions, this bill does not limit rifle use exclusively to privately owned land and in fact, if adopted, would enable IDNR to authorize rifle access for hunting purposes on public land during four (4) deer hunting seasons – seasons that have historically spanned a period of 5 months. During this time, the public will be excluded from entering the public park(s) for all other uses.
Senate Bill 20 is of significant public import. Public land is reserved for the recreational use of everyone. Rifles are inherently dangerous instrumentalities and serve no legitimate purpose on public property.
Any benefit from allowing rifles on public property comes at great expense to the public at large and confers little, if any benefit, on any specific person.
What’s most disturbing about the proposed amendments is the Senate Judiciary Committee’s complicity in IDNR’s deliberate defiance of the clear legislative mandate. The message being telegraphed to all executive agencies is to simply ignore any legislation deemed unfavorable or inconvenient. The will of the people be damned.
The history of this statute is also disturbing. This statute was sold to elected officials in 2016 as a pilot program that would serve to gather data to determine the impact of rifle use for a limited duration of time. Yet every year this statute gets amended.
Of what value will data serve when the parameters are repeatedly altered?
Please contact your Indiana state Senator and respectfully urge him/her to protect the public’s safety and best interests by opposing SB 20.
(You can locate your elected Indiana state officials here.)
On November 3rd, 2017, Indiana Department of Natural Resources (“IDNR”) issued an Emergency Rule (“ER”) to abolish current state law that serves to prohibit rifle use on public property (state and federal land). This agency action follows widely published media reports about a “mistake” in recently adopted legislation (H.B. 1415) authored by Rep. Sean Eberhard, R-Shelbyville that limits rifle use to private lands.
The ER has not yet been published in the Indiana Register, but according to IDNR’s Daily Digest Bulletin, states:
“Rifle cartridges that were allowed in previous years on public land for deer hunting are allowed on public land again this year during the deer firearms season, the reduction zone season (in zones where local ordinances allow the use of a firearm), special hunts on other public lands such as State Parks and National Wildlife Refuges, and special antlerless season.” (emphasis added)
However, as the Indiana Law Blog reported, the 2017 legislation was not actually to blame for the rifle use restriction. This amendment did not alter the language that limited the use of rifles to private property. Rather, the limitation (I.C. § 14-22-2-8(b)(1), “The use of a rifle is permitted only on privately owned land”) was added in 2016. Regardless,
“Deer hunting with rifles was permitted on public property during the 2016 deer season despite the statutory prohibition simply because no one noticed the 2016 change.”
Eager to remedy the mishap in time for deer hunting season, IDNR has turned to the temporary “emergency” rule process as a “quick fix.” The ER evidently enables the agency to thumb its nose at the legislature, or more importantly, the will of the people. This temporary rule making process apparently allows IDNR to subvert the General Assembly with a simple stroke of the pen.
One must reasonably question the validity of this legal maneuver and how a purely political issue could possibly qualify as an emergency situation.
In 2011, an Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) employee’s body-crushing (conibear) fur trap killed Melodie Liddle’s beloved dog, Copper at Versailles State Park. The deadly device, situated 15’ feet from a paved roadway, was just one of dozens of traps scattered throughout Versailles and potentially hundreds of traps hidden within Indiana State Parks by commercial fur trappers. IDNR deliberately concealed all commercial fur trapping activity from the public.
IDNR personnel repeatedly dodged Melodie’s attempts to discuss the agency’s trapping policy in the aftermath of Copper’s tragic death. When a call from the agency finally did arrive, it did not come from state park personnel or law enforcement, but rather IDNR’s Director of Communications who tape recorded the conversation without Melodie’s knowledge. The Communications Director offered no assurance that steps would be implemented to prevent future trapping deaths. In fact, three weeks after Melodie buried her dog, IDNR issued yet another “Emergency Rule” to enable more commercial fur trapping on Park properties.
Deadly devices have no legitimate purpose on public park land
Conibear traps are inherently dangerous and are used with the sole intent to kill. They do so violently and indiscriminately.
Shattered by her loss and frustrated by IDNR’s indifference, Melodie sought legal remedy for the agency’s reckless disregard of public safety.
Melodie’s Tort Claim Prevails against IDNR
In June 2017, Marion County Superior Court decided Melodie’s hard fought case in her favor, finding IDNR negligent for failing to warn state park patrons that their employee was maintaining deadly wildlife traps. While a victory acknowledging IDNR’s negligence is a critical step towards justice for Copper and Melodie Liddle, the consequences of this ruling are meager and fail to prohibit future commercial fur trapping activities on state park properties or promote transparency within an agency that customarily operates in the dark.
To address the insufficiency of the trial court’s remedy, the Center for Wildlife Ethics (CWE) filed an appeal with the Indiana Appellate Court on Melodie’s behalf.
Melodie’s devastating loss, was further compounded by the agency’s duplicity and relentless victim blaming.
Immediately following Copper’s death, IDNR worked to disguise commercial fur trapping as a public service needed for managing “nuisance” wildlife in the parks. The agency, unable to provide any evidence of a “nuisance” animal problem in Indiana State Parks, even went so far as to tout an alleged “nuisance wildlife program”. IDNR’s Director of Communications admitted, when confronted by CWE, there was no such program.
IDNR worked to deflect the blame for Copper’s death onto Melodie. Baseless accusations were raised in the media about whether her dogs were properly leashed, despite the evidence that proved they were. IDNR also raised issues regarding the trap’s location, suggesting that it was planted securely in an inaccessible location and off-limits to the public, which is untrue.
IDNR later argued in court that Melodie was contributorily negligent for Copper’s death. According to IDNR, park patrons who pay to visit state parks cannot venture down a 15-foot trail (created by the trapper himself) to a shallow creek so dogs can get a quick drink of water.
The trial court rightfully rejected this ridiculous notion. The court also agreed with Melodie that no reasonable person could have anticipated the reckless disregard of public safety demonstrated by IDNR. Nor would anyone reasonably expect to encounter an illegal, deadly device on state park land hidden by the Park’s so-called security officer.
The Legal Remedy is inadequate
Melodie suffered real, tangible damage. The law (and society) recognizes her tragedy as a tort, yet the courts offer very little in the form of any real remedy.
Tort law is meant to make an injured party whole, yet the ruling in this case contradicts this reasonable and essential objective. According to an earlier trial court ruling, Melodie is entitled to nothing more than “fair market value” or essentially, a replacement dog.
In Melodie’s case, “fair market” valuation is fundamentally flawed. There is no “market value” for a senior, mixed-breed dog who was rescued from a neglectful situation and beloved by Melodie for nearly 10 years. Copper was not a commercial animal with any inherent market value. She was never within the stream of commerce, nor could she ever be.
Copper and Melodie treasured a bond built on loyalty, and emotional and physical comfort. Copper’s value stems from this mutual affection and devotion. A “replacement” is inadequate when the loss suffered is another living being whose value is derived solely from a sentimental bond and shared life experiences.
“Fair market value” analysis is complicated by internal contradictions. External transactions (food, housing, veterinary care, etc.) are a natural consequence of the human-animal bond and are routinely acknowledged by the law, yet the intrinsic value of special, cherished relationships is often deemed nominal at best.
Equally notable, there’s nothing “fair” about a damage award that fails to acknowledge the horror Melodie experienced while wrestling frantically to free her dog from IDNR’s deadly wildlife trap.
Melodie is uniquely situated to legally challenge IDNR
Legal standing (the right to sue) is often an unsurmountable hurdle for individuals seeking a legal remedy to harmful and/or illegal agency actions. Lacking an injury-in-fact, conscientious citizens are typically unable to avail themselves of judicial intervention. The average citizen is muted.
Clearly, Melodie has suffered an injury – one proximately caused by IDNR’s shocking negligence. Her loss, or the “nexus” to the agency’s actions, uniquely qualifies Melodie to challenge IDNR’s statutory authority to permit commercial fur trappers to maintain deadly traps on Indiana State Park properties, and personally profit while doing so.
Given the strict standing requirements imposed by courts, Melodie may be the only person who could legally challenge IDNR on its reckless conduct and policies.
An appeal is critical to achieving meaningful change
While the trial court’s recent decision rightfully held that IDNR’s actions were negligent, this ruling simply creates an illusion of justice. A 2016 court order foreclosed Melodie’s opportunity to hold IDNR accountable in any meaningful sense.
The court never ruled on the legitimacy of IDNR’s commercial fur trapping activities. Although IDNR stopped using the “Emergency Rule” after 2013, there is no evidence that commercial fur trapping and the sale of pelts is not on-going. More importantly, nothing in the trial court’s Order prevents IDNR from allowing this to happen again.
Granted, a sentimental damage award and a legal prohibition to IDNR’s reckless behavior can never make Melodie “whole” given the horror she and Copper endured. But, a strong message can be sent that this level of negligence is indefensible and will not be tolerated. Thus the purpose of Melodie’s appeal.
You’ve been following Center for Wildlife Ethics’s updates on important litigation in Indiana, Liddle v. Clark, et al., a case involving outrageous recklessness by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (“IDNR”) in public parks.
After years of tireless work on behalf of plaintiff Melodie Liddle, CWE obtained a big win for companion animals, their guardians, and wildlife in Indiana. The Marion Superior Court #2 ruled that the State of Indiana was negligent for failing to warn park patrons that their employee was maintaining hidden, deadly animal traps throughout state park property.
The circumstances of this case are quite disturbing. This litigation started after Ms. Liddle’s beloved dog, Copper was killed in a steel trap about 15 feet from a paved roadway at Versailles State Park (“Park”). The deadly trap was hidden inside a wooden box built into an embankment near Laughery Creek’s edge.
Following Copper’s gruesome death, Ms. Liddle discovered that dozens of these deadly devices had been hidden throughout the Park by an IDNR employee. The employee was trapping raccoons at Versailles and selling the animal pelts for 8 years with IDNR’s knowledge, but without legal authorization.
Ms. Liddle persisted when the IDNR repeatedly leveled absurd defenses, asserting, for example, that she somehow was to blame for Copper’s death. Fortunately, the Court rejected the state’s claim that Ms. Liddle was contributorily negligent by walking a few feet down a path to allow her dogs a drink of water.
CWE’s efforts to obtain justice for Copper and Ms. Liddle are ongoing. We are already hard at work on an appeal of the Court’s earlier rulings in this case. But we wanted to pause briefly to share what is truly a meaningful victory for everyone: animals and the unsuspecting public who were (or could be) put at grave risk by IDNR’s illegitimate practices.
Thank you for making it possible with your unwavering support. We will continue to provide updates on our progress on this important litigation and further detail the issues addressed in Ms. Liddle’s appeal.
The sport hunting[i] contingent, and specifically the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has asserted for years that conservation and wildlife management is a “user-pay, user benefit” system. This assertion is far from reality. The American taxpayers, including the non-hunting, firearm-owning segment of the public, has been providing enormous and mandatory subsidies to the hunting industry for decades.[ii]
In 2016, the Center for Wildlife Ethics published “Killing for Fun(ds)” to highlight the state wildlife agencies’ financial dependency on license sales that perpetuates the recreational killing of wildlife.
“Although wildlife agencies assure the public that lethal policies are aimed at preserving ecological diversity, it has much more to do with preserving the acceptance of hobby killing, increasing hunting participation, maximizing the carrying capacity of land to increase preferred game species numbers, and ultimately ensuring a reliable funding base for the agency.”
The article also addressed The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (commonly referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act) – a constant and indefinite wildlife conservation funding source derived from an excise tax on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment.
Since Pittman-Robertson was first enacted in 1937, more than $10 billion dollars have been channeled to state wildlife agencies and “stakeholders” who support recreational killing of wildlife or profit from it.
Wildlife agency budgets rely heavily on recreational killing license sales and matching federal funds sent to the agencies under Pittman-Robertson. Thus consumptive users (a/k/a hunters and trappers), a very small yet vocal lobbying minority, are elevated to the agency’s primary constituency. The consumptive users’ interests and demands routinely dictate wildlife policies due in part to Pittman-Robertson’s matching financial scheme.
In essence, the economic influence of hunters and trappers is literally doubled along with their political influence. Meanwhile non-consumptive members of the public whose agendas are not amplified by federal government funding are all but ignored. This cozy relationship is one reason compassionate voices seeking nonviolence in wildlife policy are so frequently silenced.
Notably, the steady decline in hunting participation and the wildlife agencies’ reliance on an inequitable and antiquated funding system has created a shift in agency culture. Rather than focusing attention on preserving natural lands and resources for all, the industry is focusing increased efforts on peddling killing opportunities and crafting clever linguistics to convince the public that it has their best interests in mind.
Although messaging surrounding Pittman-Robertson has consistently applauded hunters as the sole contributors, the non-hunting public increasingly contributes to this fund.
The conservation community is acknowledging the “downward trend in the national hunting rate” as evidenced by a recent article, “The Growth of Sport Shooting Participation” in The Wildlife Professional (March/April 2017). According to the authors[iii], “sport shooters who do not hunt now make up an increasingly important segment” of the shooting population.
“Wildlife professionals, agencies and organizations will need to recognize the implications of this shifting demographic and take appropriate steps if the PR Act is to remain a viable user-pay, user-benefit program for wildlife conservation programs.
Unfortunately, what has not yet been acknowledged by the conservation community is the vast number of sport shooters who value wild animals alive and would not support recreational killing if given a choice. Many of whom may also believe that truly conserving wildlife is incompatible with killing animals or growing wildlife populations for the sole purpose of satisfying hunter demands.
It is also time to recognize the hunting industry’s assertions that hunters pay for everything is an absolute falsehood. The majority of the public and sport shooters are not hunters or more specifically, “users” of wildlife resources and they deserve a voice in how wildlife is managed that is proportionate to their majority status.
[i] The term “sport hunting” refers to killing for fun, hobby or recreation. Neither the activity, nor the use of the word “sport” to describe it, is condoned by CWE.
[ii] Mark E. Smith and Donald A. Molde, “Wildlife Conservation and Management Funding in the U.S., Oct. 2014.
[iii] Mark Damian Duda, Tom Beppler and John Organ.