But you won...why are you appealing?

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.

Copper Color Scan 2.jpg

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.

quora

quora

IDNR’s Indecency

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.

eaglecountryonline.com

eaglecountryonline.com

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.