CWE SCORES MAJOR VICTORY: Court Rules IDNR Negligent for Failing to Warn State Park Patrons of Deadly Wildlife Traps

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.

This week, we are thrilled to share our biggest announcement yet.

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.

Versailles State Park, Indiana

Versailles State Park, Indiana

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.

Conservation Increasingly Funded By Non-Hunters

          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]

vocativ.com

vocativ.com

          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.

wikipedia.com

wikipedia.com

          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.

Michigan DNR

Michigan DNR

          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.

The Rebranding of Fur Trapping

Fur trapping, similar to other forms of state sanctioned violence against wildlife, is legal today because the time, place and manner of the brutality is conveniently shielded from public view. Broader scrutiny is deflected through clever messaging tactics employed by wildlife agency public relations experts who cloak this commercial activity as a necessary evil.

Addressing all of the communication schemes employed for manipulating public opinion, silencing opposition, and whitewashing violence against animals could require one to author an entire book (or perhaps teach a graduate course at Cornell University, where so-called “human dimensions” studies includes such instruction).

While this blog could not accommodate such a detailed analysis, it may be useful to focus this discussion on the art of conflation, or more specifically, when two or more concepts that share some characteristics are merged as a single identity to the point that the differences are blurred or become lost.

The conflation of recreational (“fur”) trapping and “nuisance” wild animal control is a perfect example of how language is contrived to support and promote an agenda.

Other than terrorizing wild animals though, these two activities have little else in common.

Fur trapping and “nuisance” control are two distinct activities serving different purposes. Each activity is governed by separate licenses, applications and laws. Each depends on unique objectives, skill sets and measurements of success. A “nuisance” control permit is customarily free, yet a licensing fee is always imposed on fur trappers.

“Nuisance” control consists of the selected removal of individual animals whose behavior or condition, such as illness, can be controlled. "Nuisance animal" is a vague label used, accurately or not, to denote an animal who is causing or threatening to cause property damage, or perceived to pose a health or safety threat to domestic animals or people.

In Indiana, the hide of a “nuisance” animal cannot be sold, traded, bartered or gifted. And, in some states, anyone wishing to control “nuisance” animals for a fee, must satisfy testing, continuing education and/or annual reporting requirements.

“Nuisance” problems can be remedied non-lethally. And, the mere presence of an animal does not qualify him/her as a “nuisance”.  

Conversely, fur trapping is indiscriminate and targets healthy populations of a chosen species, not individual problem animals. Fur trapping is regulated by particular seasons that correspond with the ripeness (plushness) of a specific species’ fur. Furbearing animals are either discovered dead in traps or killed by trappers, skinned for their pelts and the fur is sold for profit generating purposes.  

Fur trapping is always lethal. Wildlife agencies overseeing this activity also mandate the use of “game harvest reports”.

Fur trapping does not control the spread of disease, including rabies, as sick animals are not attracted to bait. In fact, fur trapping may actually serve to exacerbate the spread of disease because only healthy, mature and potentially immune animals are the ones being killed, and therefore removed from the local population.

Despite the numerous distinctions between fur trapping and “nuisance” control, these activities are routinely conflated by trapping proponents to promote and justify more killing. Wildlife agency personnel capitalize on an uninformed public and the nuance between fur trapping and “nuisance” control to disguise the gratuitous nature of the violence, while promoting still more consumptive use of wildlife. And, as evidenced by the Liddle v. Clark, et al., litigation, this tactic has also proven successful for opening up public lands, unbeknownst to the public, for private commercial gain.

The twisted linguistics also establish a contrived need for trapping animals and enable state wildlife communication experts to package fur trapping as a necessary evil. By conflating these two activities, trapping proponents disguise recreational/fur trapping – an increasingly unpopular, commercial exploitation of wild animals – as a more acceptable, publicly palatable endeavor.

As evidenced by the Liddle litigation, the communications and messages are all calculated for the purpose of creating an appearance of responsible stewardship over public lands and the public’s well-being while mischaracterizing an otherwise secretive, dangerous, and morally reprehensible activity. It also allows connected insiders from the private sector to access public lands for commercial gain.

Center for Wildlife Ethics is working to expose trapping industry cruelty and the purposeful conflation of fur trapping with so-called "nuisance" trapping. If you have information on an animal trapping incident and would like to assist CWE's efforts to stop trapping cruelty, please complete our online survey.

CWE Appeals to protect public safety and ensure transparency in New York deer Kills

As the nation embarks upon a period of turbulent political, historical and legal transition, some experts warn that Freedom of Information and government transparency may be largely eviscerated under the Trump regime. A pending lawsuit in New York could have critical implications for government transparency and its role in safeguarding the public.

Youtube

Youtube

LaVeck v. Lansing

City-Data.com

City-Data.com

In October, the Center for Wildlife Ethics (CWE), in collaboration with the advocacy group CayugaDeer.org, argued an appeal in the Third Department Appellate Division (LaVeck v. Village Board of Trustees of the Village of Lansing) asserting the public’s right to know when and where government-authorized, life-threatening activities are being carried out in neighborhood backyards.

Like many communities in New York, the Village of Lansing (a suburb of Ithaca, NY) has claimed an overpopulation of white-tail deer and opted to kill large numbers of these animals. Working with interested staff members and hunting enthusiasts at Cornell University, the Village has secured the permission of some Lansing property owners to allow hand-picked bow hunters to kill deer on their property.

Lansing’s “Deer Management Program” has worried some residents and members of nearby communities who fear that their families or animals may be injured or killed by amateur hunters. This concern is further compounded by the Village’s failure to provide any cautionary warning about the time or place weapons are being discharged.

Alleged safety and privacy concerns with no factual basis

Under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), records are presumed to be public and subject to mandatory disclosure except in a handful of narrow and well-defined exemptions. In January 2015, documentary filmmaker James LaVeck, submitted a FOIL request for records dealing with Lansing’s deer management activities.

Nearly a month later, the Village informed LaVeck that several hundred pages of responsive records were available, but had been redacted (i.e., partially “blacked-out”) to protect against an alleged “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” and that if disclosed, would supposedly “endanger the life or safety of persons.”

LaVeck submitted a Village-level appeal, but Lansing’s Mayor offered no further explanation for the denial or clarification as to whose safety and privacy the Village was trying to protect. Left with no remedy at the Village level, LaVeck opted to litigate Lansing’s decision to cloak its deer killing program in secrecy.

In litigation, it became evident that the Village had no factual basis for withholding the records and no actual safety risk existed. Rather, to support the invasion of privacy and endangerment exemptions, Lansing produced an affidavit from the Village Clerk, claiming she was generally “informed” of some controversy over deer management policies and alleged threats made years ago in a different village.

To clarify, there was absolutely no basis for Lansing to redact responsive records. FOIL’s express language places the burden of proof squarely on the governmental body issuing the denial. Ultimately, the Village, in a desperate attempt to justify nondisclosure of public records simply borrowed an alleged controversy from years earlier in a nearby municipality consisting of vague and unsubstantiated allegations of threats.

Village of Lansing

Village of Lansing

Perhaps even more troubling was the Village’s position that mere controversy or disagreement surrounding a governmental activity legally shields those records from public scrutiny.

Open government discarded for political convenience

Freedom of Information exists precisely to ensure that the people can observe and evaluate what their public servants are up to, whether it is mundane, sensational or anything in between. To conceal its deer killing records, the Village put forth a defense that was tantamount to arguing that its activities were “too controversial” to disclose where, when, and how they would take place.

The consequences of this cynical stance on open government, if applied broadly, are staggering.           

Defying all commonsense and flouting abundant legal precedent that is clearly contrary to Lansing’s policy of opaqueness, the Village prevailed in the lower court. This not only set the stage for a fascinating appeal, but also transformed the case from one of primarily local concern to a matter with critical statewide consequences.

What about the safety of unknowing bystanders?

Leaving aside, momentarily, the Village’s flimsy and unsupported arguments, the lower court utterly ignored the possibility of endangerment resulting from the Village’s failure to disclose the records. Due to the administration’s secrecy, Village residents, visitors and their families could regularly find themselves in close proximity to individuals discharging weapons with no warning.

Rutgers NJAES

Rutgers NJAES

In arguing this matter at the Appellate Division in Albany, CWE wildlife attorney Trevor DeSane stressed to the panel of judges that this case “could represent a landmark in establishing the public’s right to know the details of when and where municipal deer shooting is taking place in neighborhood backyards.” DeSane further argued “the very critical public interest in disclosure that exists in Lansing will exist in any community statewide that is the site of a similar program.”

The simple and compelling reasons that full disclosure of nearby shooting is good public policy are numerous and easily understood. Like other inherently dangerous activities, discharging weapons is unquestionably safer when individuals in the vicinity are aware of when and where it is taking place so they can take all possible precautions to protect their families and pets.

Some residents might choose to stay out of their backyards or keep their children inside when amateur hunters are traipsing around on adjacent property shooting at deer. Others might think twice about jogging on a specific road when shooting is scheduled. Still others might close their curtains to avoid the trauma of their child witnessing a mortally wounded and suffering animal fleeing a shooter.

Failure to disclose details of shooting activities can result in tragedy

While Lansing stubbornly guards against disclosure of public information, LaVeck’s attorney argues that Village officials are flirting with an inexcusable tragedy: “In the real world, where bowhunters are discharging deadly weapons in close proximity to people, homes, schools, and roadways, this obsession with secrecy could literally kill or maim someone.”

LaVeck’s appeal has broad safety implications for all New Yorkers as well as obvious legal interest for advocates of open government. As DeSane stressed, “The court’s decision should uphold FOIL and acknowledge the very real public safety concerns that result from declaring entire areas of government activity off limits to the public. The only alternative would be a decision that legitimizes Lansing’s dangerous position and gives local governments a blank check to shroud their activities in secrecy, with no consideration of the consequences, whenever those activities are contentious or unpopular.” 

APPEAL DENIED: IDNR CONTENDS NO DUTY TO PARK PATRONS AFTER HIDING LETHAL TRAPS IN PUBLIC PARK

          Last week, the Court of Appeals of Indiana denied the interlocutory appeal for Melodie Liddle (Liddle v. Clark, et al.) – the unfortunate park patron who struggled frantically to save her leashed dog Copper from a deadly trap at Versailles State Park in Indiana, and ultimately witnessed her beloved companion die in her arms. As has been the case with other motions filed by Ms. Liddle, her interlocutory appeal was summarily denied without explanation or justification.

          The facts in this case are undisputed and highlight the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) indifference and reckless disregard for public safety. IDNR created a hazardous condition at Versailles by hiding lethal wildlife traps just feet away from the roadway and other areas frequented by the public and their pets. The agency then deliberately failed to warn park patrons of either the traps’ presence or location. Serious harm was not only foreseeable, but inevitable.

          Neither law nor fact support the State’s claims that the employees who created this hazard are immune from liability simply because they are on IDNR’s payroll or that IDNR has no duty to protect park patrons from foreseeable harm inflicted by dangerous lethal traps they themselves concealed throughout the park.

conbear 220.jpg

          In the five years since Copper’s violent death, IDNR has made no settlement attempt and offered no apology. Those who enabled this perilous condition have shown no signs of remorse or decency toward Ms. Liddle or her family. Rather, the State has worked to make this case as convoluted, expensive and protracted as possible.

          Ms. Liddle’s attorneys at the Center for Wildlife Ethics (CWE), have worked to vindicate her rights and vow to continue to battle this obstruction of justice. According to CWE attorney and Director Laura Nirenberg, “If we take the government’s flimsy defense to its troubling conclusion, IDNR could have hidden traps anywhere throughout the park where people were allowed (bathrooms, swimming pool, camp grounds, etc.) and any resulting injuries, regardless of the severity, would leave the victims without any legal recourse. People could literally lose their hand, or worse yet, a child, and the government would have no liability.”

          Adding insult to injury, the Indiana taxpayers – the same foreseeable victims of this secret killing program – are bearing the financial cost of this extensive litigation for both IDNR and the trapper.

          CWE, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, is committed to providing legal advocacy for Ms. Liddle until justice prevails. We desperately need your help.  All contributions, no matter the amount, are tax-deductible and could help achieve justice for Copper and prevent future tragedies like the one Ms. Liddle has suffered through. Your support is greatly appreciated. 

Right to Hunt Measure is dangerous, unnecessary, and degrades State Constitution

Hoosiers will be asked to vote on whether or not to amend Indiana’s constitution to include Question #1:

shutterstock

shutterstock

“The right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife is a valued part of Indiana's heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good. The people have a right, which includes the right to use traditional methods, to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, subject only to the laws prescribed by the General Assembly and rules prescribed by virtue of the authority of the General Assembly to promote wildlife conservation and management and preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to limit the application of any provision of law relating to trespass or property rights.”

A state’s constitution is primary law. It is the architecture for society and government. Any changes must be clear, thoughtful, and infrequent since they should only reflect cultural or philosophical shifts of significant magnitude.

Indiana’s Bill of Rights represents the citizenry’s social contract and guides our dealings with each other and the government. These core rights facilitate our liberty and travel with us, unconfined by location or one’s surroundings.  

The right to kill does not, and cannot, qualify for this level of importance.

The right to hunt is not a societal core value, nor does it guide or serve any collective social purpose. It does nothing to enhance our social contract with each other or our government. In fact, many would argue we’re all more socialized without it.

The right to kill is not essential to our citizenship. It is not needed as a condition to exercise other rights that enable society to advance. (Rather, this proposed measure is deliberately designed to preclude societal advancement.)

The vast majority of Hoosiers do not participate in recreational killing. Elevating a violent hobby that has undergone a steady decline in popularity from a regulated privilege to the lofty status of a protected right is contemptible.

Other than procedurally-speaking, Question 1 is not a constitutional amendment at all. It is a legal placeholder that will allow political mischief and facilitate poor social policy. Its scope is limited to a lobbying block, and even then, only applies when its members are engaged in specific activities.

The proposed amendment is dishonest. It enables the government to pretend that violence and destruction are revered. The term “forever preserved” creates a false perception of virtue and importance. It also suggests that some truly fundamental right is currently under siege, thereby creating the false sense of urgency needed to get this absurd measure on the ballot.

The vague, undefined term “harvest” may grant heightened protection on wildlife trappers and their inherently cruel and indiscriminate trapping practices. Brutally painful and deadly traps can be cloaked as “traditional” to avoid or limit pesky regulatory oversight. Any public outrage about the recreational trapping of wildlife or human safety risks on public lands be damned.

As proposed, the measure intensifies the Department of Natural Resources’ pro-killing slant and delegates unwarranted discretion to this agency. This is the same wildlife agency that has repeatedly enacted harmful policies that circumvent public notice, silence public opinion and recklessly disregard public safety. Killing will, as usual, be authorized by a handshake while saving animals, or even leaving them alone, will become a bureaucratic nightmare likely soon regulated out of existence.

Constitutionalizing recreational killing alongside the right to freedom of speech and the press, the prohibition against slavery, and freedom of religion, is shameful. Commodifying inalienable rights for the sole benefit of the well-connected few screams of desperation and entitlement. Question 1 makes a mockery of Indiana’s constitution, will result in absurd consequences, and sets a dangerous precedent sure to open the floodgates for more special interest politicking.

The priority of this measure is evident. It is meant to enshrine some bizarre sense that killing is the only option while silencing the political speech of compassionate voices that favor non-violence and/or public safety. It serves to bind future generations to a single violent mechanism for interacting with wildlife regardless of whether it is safe, rational, ethical, or effective.

A small minority, even a vocal and armed one, should not determine what constitutes Indiana’s collective ideals.

Innovation and advancement of new ideas requires a governmental process that is responsive to the public’s will. Question 1 blatantly and openly violates the integrity and fundamental purpose of these democratic principles and should be emphatically rejected by all citizens respectful of the constitution.

Exploring the Overlap Between Hunting Season and Increased Deer-Vehicle Collisions

Every fall, motorists are cautioned to remain alert while on roadways because of the significant rise in deer-vehicle collisions (DVC). According to the Insurance Information Institute, there is a dramatic increase in the movement of deer “during deer season” resulting in over 1.5 million DVCs annually and “more than $1 billion in auto damage.”  

State Farm Insurance confirms this phenomenon, noting that in 2015, “one out of 169 drivers will have a claim from hitting a deer, elk or moose”, and these odds “more than double” during the heavily hunted months of October, November and December.

by jcrader

by jcrader

The media and the hunting contingent routinely attribute this spike in roadway hazards to emboldened, testosterone-crazed bucks in hot pursuit of females. However, the majority of road-killed deer during breeding season are not antlered (i.e., are not mature males), dispelling the myth that horny deer are oblivious to roadway hazards. In fact, evidence suggests that to the contrary, it is terrified deer fleeing hunters who are the victims of increased DVCs in the fall.

One would reasonably expect that if erratic breeding season behavior was the true cause of increased DVCs in the fall, supporting studies and data would be abundant, especially given the frequency of these events, the cost in human and animal lives, property damage, etc., as well as the popularity of the claim itself. Although media claims and propaganda blaming deer for these tragic happenings are rampant, any critical studies to support the notion that rutting deer cause accidents in the fall are utterly lacking.

In fact, the one recent study uncovered by the Center for Wildlife Ethics addressing the tremendous uptick in autumn deer-vehicle collisions suggests a human-created cause. “Relationship of Autumn Hunting Season to the Frequency of Deer-Vehicle Collisions in Michigan,[1] a 2006 study, suggests (and logic dictates), hunting is quite likely a contributing factor in the increased number of DVCs – most of which occur during the early morning and early evening hours – preferred hunting periods.

The study recommended further work examining the relationship between hunting season, rutting behavior and DVC frequency; yet ten years after its publication, it does not appear that any further work has been commissioned.

Why is that? Is it possible that the issue of DVCs is being avoided deliberately because of the negative ramifications such research may have on the hunting industry?

Remember, hunters typically use the tragic consequences of deer-vehicle collisions to bolster public support of recreational killing. They claim to provide a public service through white-tailed deer reductions – theoretically, reducing the number of DVCs.

The hunting contingent’s claims of public service are misleading. Deer populations are deliberately manipulated to record-setting levels for the sole purpose of providing an abundance of live targets for hunters to shoot. Larger populations lead to more competition for food, territories and mates, and ultimately, more roadway hazards.

by NIghthawk Publications

by NIghthawk Publications

It is illogical to believe that hunters and their violent hobby are not a contributing factor to DVCs. The disruptive presence and predatory activities of hunters in deer habitat cause these nervous animals of prey to panic and bolt blindly across roadways while fleeing hunters, their vehicles, and of course, their lethal projectiles.

Any disruption in the deer’s environment and normal patterns of behavior is further compounded by hunters who hide in trees and douse themselves in estrous deer or dominant buck urine – substances that are sure to stimulate buck activity.

If the hunting community truly believed its own unsubstantiated assertions alleging that the sexual arousal of bucks in rut was to blame for these hazardous accidents, then the application of either of these substances make hunters culpable to some degree. Similarly, wildlife managers who deliberately manipulate deer populations to artificially high numbers for the benefit of local hunters should be held equally responsible.

 

[1] The Journal of Wildlife Management, 704(4): 1161-1164 (2006).

Making the Connection: Dove Hunting and Hunter Retention

            Sept. 1 marks the opening day of dove hunting season. Ironically, the dove is the same delicate bird that has historically been revered in America as a symbol of peace. 

            An Illinois Dove Hunter Assessment[1] estimates that more than 50 million shot shells (largely comprised of lead as 59% of hunters never use the ecologically preferred steel shot) are used to kill 12 to 18 million doves annually.

            How is this justified?

            Unlike the repeated mantras used to excuse the killing of other wildlife species, these birds are not deemed overpopulated nor do they cause damage to commercial farming. Rather, doves are extremely beneficial to the environment and aid farmers by feeding on weed seeds – an invaluable service that provides a natural alternative to the harmful chemical herbicides that routinely pollute our landscapes.

            These slight birds cannot be hunted for food in any practical sense. The average dove only weighs ~ 4.5 ounces and after all the gunshot is removed (highly recommended), any remaining portion is likely smaller than a chicken nugget.

            Doves typically do not flock together. To combat this solitary nature and encourage the congregation of large numbers of these birds at preferred shooting locations, acres of sunflowers are routinely planted, often times by the wildlife agencies. These lure plots serve to deliberately attract these birds to their death.

            For wildlife agencies though, doves represent more than simply live targets for hunters to shoot.

            Since the 1980s, there has been a steady decline in hunting participation.[2] The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported that for every 100 Wisconsin residents who give up hunting, only 53 new ones begin.[3]  In Michigan, the findings are even more dramatic with only 26 people replacing every 100 hunters lost.[4]          

            This significant drop in hunter participation places immense pressure on the agency’s operational budgets that rely heavily on the sale of licenses and matching federal funds. As such, wildlife managers have focused their attention on hunter recruitment, retention and growth, especially in younger markets.

            According to Families Afield, a program launched specifically to combat the decline in youth hunting participation, “the need for aggressive recruitment is urgent.”[5]

            The majority of hunters, 79.6%, start hunting between the ages of 6 and 15; thus, “quality hunting opportunities” such as special youth seasons and hunting at locations such as lure plots, help to incentivize children to start killing.

            Areas stocked with preferred game species (e.g., hand-reared birds lacking their natural aversion to the presence of humans) just prior to the arrival of armed children also serve to facilitate a “successful” kill.

            If senselessly killing sentient beings by the thousands and the complicity of our wildlife managers' in this abject violence is not objectionable enough, consider research that reflects an average wounding rate of 30 percent.[6]

                Downed birds are often crippled and continue to suffer until they starve or fall victim to predation. These birds are not included in a hunter's bag limit which results in even more birds being killed and maimed. Note too that many doves are still tending to their offspring during September, so additional undocumented birds are left to suffer. Since doves mate for life, when one is killed, the breeding pair is lost.

            Given the great lengths our wildlife managers extend themselves to perpetuate the killing of our wild natural resources, together with the callous disregard for suffering exhibited by those who consider the shooting of defenseless birds an acceptable recreational pastime, it is no wonder that the public's perception toward hunting continues to sour.

 

[1] Craig A. Miller, Assessment of Illinois Dove Hunter Satisfaction, Retention and Attitudes Toward Non-Toxic Shot, Dec. 2013, http://wwx.inhs.illinois.edu/files/1013/9638/2706/Assessment_of_Illinois_Dove_Hunter_Satisfaction_Retention_and_Attitudes_Toward_Steel_Shot.pdf (Last accessed Aug. 29, 2016).

[2] Jody W. Enck, George F. Mattfeld, and Daniel J. Decker, Retaining Likely Dropouts from Hunting: New York’s Apprentice Hunter Program, Trans. 61st No. Am. Wildl. And Natur. Resour. Conf., 358 (1996).

[3] J. Pritzl, Keeping connected, Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine, April 2007. Retrieved May, 18, 2007, from http://www.wnrmag.com/stories/2007/apr07/kids.htm

[4] Silvertip Productions, Southwick Associates, et al., Revised youth hunting report, Families Afield. www.ussafoundation.org/document.doc?id=10 (Last accessed Jan. 29, 2016).

[5] Families Afield, “Revised Youth Hunting Report”, http://www.ussafoundation.org/document.doc?id=10 (Last accessed Aug. 30, 2016).

[6] Texas Parks and Wildlife, “Migratory Game Bird Wounding Loss,” https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_br_w7000_1690_06_11.pdf (Last accessed Aug. 30, 2016).

When a fake "emergency" becomes a real-life hazard

            Between 2004 and 2013, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) distorted the regulatory process for the purpose of converting public lands into private treasure troves for fur-trappers. Through the use of a temporary procedure—a so-called “emergency” rule—well-connected trappers were authorized to conceal dangerous lethal devices throughout state parks without so much as a cautionary warning to members of the public who visit these serene, cherished lands.

            As the name implies, an Emergency Rule (ER) is a regulatory action used in unusually hazardous situations that warrant immediate attention. According to Indiana law, the need for regulatory action is substantiated by a thorough investigation. When a long-term need is established, the ER process runs concurrently with the agency’s promulgation of a permanent rule.

            An agency relies on this parallel ER process when immediate action is necessary to put the pending permanent rule into operation during the interim. The ER is designed to be used infrequently and to serve as a temporary gap measure where public notice and comment is not discarded, only temporarily delayed due to the extraordinary circumstances.

            At least, that is how it is supposed to work.

            In 2004, IDNR, capitalizing on the disinterest of media and watchdog groups, enacted an ER to permit the trapping of beaver in Pokagon and Shakamak State Parks. By 2005, the ER targeted raccoons in 23 state parks. Additional species and properties, including state reservoir properties, were added in subsequent years.

            Lacking any semblance of meaningful agency oversight, the annual reissuance of this temporary regulatory scheme deliberately thwarted all public notice and input requirements. To date, IDNR as never promulgated a permanent rule to address this alleged “emergency.” No evidence was provided by the agency either through discovery in litigation that is currently pending or public access to records requests that would suggest IDNR (or anyone else) ever conducted a thorough investigation to support the need for an ER in any state park or reservoir property.

            IDNR’s deliberate abuse of the ER process begs the question: how can the mere presence of native wildlife on vast undeveloped swaths of wooded parkland be construed as an unusual hazard? And, if the alleged nuisance wildlife problems were severe enough to constitute an emergency, these concerns would be well-documented, right?

            According to IDNR’s communication director, the raccoon “emergency” was supported by a 1988 raccoon roundworm study, the 1987 Indiana Prairie Farmer Report, the 1993 AVMA Panel on Euthanasia Report, and other irrelevant documents that contained the word “raccoon”. While this conglomeration of random, outdated materials could conceivably be of interest from an historical wildlife zoonotic disease perspective, it is of no value for demonstrating the existence of an immediate hazard on any Indiana public lands between 2004 and 2013.

            When pressed, the agency claimed that a handful of camper complaints about nuisance raccoons generated during the summer months at various state parks triggered the need for the ERs. How these random complaints, spread over the course of several years, could conceivably be used to justify the need for trapping and killing raccoons in other parks hundreds of miles away is anyone’s guess.

            Notably, the ERs enacted to address this alleged emergency limited all trapping activities to the regulated trapping season and mandated that any trappers targeting nuisance situations outside of the legal trapping season must “possess a nuisance wild animal control permit”.

            If the ERs were truly meant to address nuisance wildlife complaints, there would be no need for trappers to obtain another permit. And, if camper complaints legitimately rose to the level of an emergency, why would trappers be required to wait until winter – 6+ months later – to target the offending animal(s)? 

            Contrary to IDNR’s oft-repeated rhetoric, this regulatory scheme was deliberately designed to financially benefit fur trappers. The ERs’ explicit limitations ensured that animals would only be killed during the winter months when animal pelts are plush and marketable. The ERs explicit language actually served to discourage trappers from responding to camper complaints or legitimate nuisance situations during the peak camping season.

            Blaming “nuisance” wildlife was an advertent public relations’ tactic that allowed the agency to present the killing of wildlife on public lands as a necessary evil. Painting these animals as a human health threat served to disguise the fact that the annual trapping and killing of wildlife was being conducted for recreation and profit.

            An internal IDNR memorandum clearly supports this position. The memo cautioned property managers about setting trapping conditions in each park and stressed the importance of confidentiality: “this matter should not “become a public media issue…for obvious reasons.” IDNR, so committed to secrecy, refused to inform the public about these hidden lethal devices and then excused this blatant recklessness by claiming that publicizing the program may result in traps being stolen.

            IDNR fabricated an emergency situation to financially reward its friends in the fur trapping industry. The overwhelming irony in this situation is that by doing so, the agency, as public land custodians, deliberately created an unusual hazard that foreseeably jeopardized the same constituency it is entrusted and obligated to protect. And then it exhibited this reckless disregard for both public safety and sound public policy for more than 9 years.

Liddle v. Clark: Indiana State Park Trapping Tragedy--a Prologue

            My entire family loved being in the park, including our canine family members. Whenever the weather allowed, I brought my dogs, Copper and Pirty, to Versailles State Park: a serene environment, especially in the winter when the park is less crowded.      

Copper, by Melodie Liddle

Copper, by Melodie Liddle

            December 16, 2011 was an unseasonably nice day in Southeast Indiana and that day the “kids” and I took a rather long walk in Versailles. The dogs began to pant so I followed them down a visible path just off the roadway, until we reached the water where they started drinking and sniffing around. After a couple minutes, I turned around with both leashed dogs to head back up to the road when Copper started shrieking. By the time I had turned around completely, she was pulling herself out of a wooden box built into the embankment at the water’s edge. Copper flailed around in the creek, twisting in an effort to break free of something.

            Rushing to Copper’s aid, I noticed something metal clamped onto her shoulders and neck area. Panicked by the realization that this was a wildlife trap, I frantically searched for a lever or anything that could release the trap. All attempts to free her were futile. After several minutes, Copper lifelessly collapsed.

            I continued to struggle with the trap hoping that Copper’s lack of movement would allow me to finally remove it. Despite my desperate screams for help, no one could hear me, and help never arrived. I tried phoning for assistance but there was no cell phone coverage on the path. I ran up to the road but was still unable to get a signal. Realizing the dogs and I were alone, I returned to Copper and again struggled with the trap, but to no avail.

            Confused and shaken, I grabbed Pirty’s leash and walked about one-quarter mile back to my car. A wave of unimaginable sorrow washed over me. Not only had my dog so needlessly died, but it had happened right in my arms. After about fifteen minutes of sobbing, it dawned on me to call a neighbor who had previous trapping experience to see if he could help me free Copper from the trap. Thankfully, my phone worked and Gene answered my call, but it took several minutes before I was calm enough to explain to him what had happened.

            About fifteen minutes later, Gene met me at my car and then followed me back to the creek. Gene immediately went over to Copper, removed her collar and the leash, and started to work to get the trap off. After a couple minutes, while Gene continued to work on the trap, I left to find the park officials and notify them that someone hid a trap in their park and it killed my dog.

            Once at the Gate House, I was led back outside to talk to park personnel. After hearing what happened, the property manager, visibly surprised (yet annoyed) by the news, pointed to his assistant, muttered a few words, and the two got into a truck and slowly began following me back to Copper and the trap site.

            When we arrived, the manager observed that Gene had moved Copper’s body to the back of his truck.

            “Was the dog on a leash?” the manager asked me.

            “Yes, she was on a leash,” I answered, “But why does that matter?”

            He ignored my question completely. “Where’s the trap?” he uttered.

            I proceeded to take him down the short path between the road and the creek and pointed to the trap near the cubby where Gene had left it. The manager gathered the trap and handed it to his assistant who had remained silent the entire time. He then stepped into the creek and picked up the leash. It dangled above the water as he snapped, “This is why the dog got caught in the trap,” and, rather than hand the leash to me, he dropped it back into the creek.

            Shocked and in disbelief of Copper’s indefensible death and the park personnel’s blatant indifference to the situation, I returned to the truck where Copper laid lifeless and cried – all the while, repeatedly asking why a lethal trap would be hidden in a public park. Initially, the manager ignored my questions, but then finally responded that they “have to keep the raccoon population down” at the campgrounds.

            This got my attention and obviously, Gene’s as well: “So, wait a minute, you’re responsible for the trap?!” Gene heatedly inquired.

            The more the park manager said, the more surreal the discussion became. He confirmed, with an unsettling nonchalance that state officials deliberately sanctioned the scattering of hidden traps throughout the park and intentionally opted not to warn visitors. This reckless disregard for public safety was justified out of some ridiculous concern that people might steal the traps. The park manager remained callous and insensitive; never offering a kind word, gesture, apology, or a reasonable explanation for the tragedy that had just been inflicted on my family.

            There was nothing left to do. Reeling from the shock of it all, Gene and I both left the park. Once Gene and Copper arrived at my house, I again examined Copper for any signs of life. Looking back, this impulse could have been triggered by my training as a respiratory therapist, or perhaps it served to provide a much-needed moment of pause and a final good-bye. It also enabled me to gather myself for the dreaded phone calls to unsuspecting loved ones for whom the grief would start afresh. After which came the gloomy task of burying my beloved family pet.      

            The agency responsible for the trapping program in Indiana’s state parks, Department of Natural Resources, recklessly disregarded public safety, refusing to take steps that might prevent this foreseeable—if not inevitable—tragedy. In the years since Copper’s death, I have been involved in a legal action against the agency, seeking some degree of accountability. Over the next few months, the Center for Wildlife Ethics will publish a multi-part series highlighting the key events in the litigation and public policy impact of each event. The series will explain how, through the blatant manipulation of the law and the public’s trust, the State of Indiana hopes to immunize itself from all liability.

            Every word of this series is dedicated to Copper.

                                                                                                -Melodie Liddle