Defying Strong Public Opposition, Legislators Push For Bobcat Hunting Season in Indiana

As expected, a bobcat hunting/trapping bill (House Bill 1407) has been introduced in the Indiana General Assembly.

The language of the proposed bill defines a county “eligible” for a bobcat season as one that has surpassed a minimum of thirty (30) reported bobcat sightings received by the “department” for two consecutive years between Jan. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2018.

Whether these reported bobcat sightings were real, mistaken, duplicative, or fraudulent is apparently of no importance. Verification by IDNR is not required. The only requirement was that someone reported a sighting to the department.

John Morrison Photography

John Morrison Photography

The window for reporting bobcat sightings is officially over, and surely IDNR has already tallied the handful of statewide sighting reports it has received. Yet,  HB 1407 fails to disclose which counties qualify for a bobcat hunting/trapping season.

According to the bill’s primary author, Rep. Lindauer’s office, the bobcat season is necessary because of “nuisance” concerns including livestock depredation and property loss.

These concerns, even if legitimate, fail to justify an open bobcat season.

This bill indiscriminately targets all bobcats in eligible counties merely for being present—by definition ignoring whether they’ve been a so-called “nuisance” or were just unlucky enough to be spotted in an eligible county.

Furthermore, Indiana law (312 IAC 9-10-11) already addresses “nuisance” concerns. According to IDNR:

Conflicts between bobcats and livestock are rare, but landowners may request a nuisance wildlife permit from the DNR for bobcats in the rare instance that damage is occurring.” 

As readers of this blog may also recall, IDNR, the agency entrusted with gathering data surrounding bobcats, issued, and then later removed from the Internet, its own bobcat FAQ sheet that reiterates nuisance complaints are in fact rare: 

We get very few reports of bobcats being a nuisance of causing damage”.

This, of course, begs the questions then, why would a statute be needed if complaints are minimal and problematic bobcats can already be legally controlled?

Follow the money.

House Bill 1407 proposes a recreational bobcat hunting/trapping  season.

Recreational hunting/trapping and “nuisance” control are two distinct activities, each serving an entirely different purpose and governed by separate licenses and regulations. These distinct activities are also guided by different methodologies and articulated objectives.

The problem for IDNR and bobcat hunting proponents is that managing perceived “nuisance” bobcats under the authority of a wild animal control permit generates no revenue. IDNR does not charge a fee for this permit and the property owner or his/her agent assigned to kill the targeted animal, is prohibited from selling, gifting, trading or bartering animals taken.

The bill’s coauthors, Representatives Bacon, Lindauer, and Bartels, are the same elected officials who hosted, along with the IDNR, at least one closed-door meeting exclusively for hunting and trapping proponents for the purpose of discussing a recreational bobcat season.

This October 2018 meeting came on the heels of the NRC Secretary’s motion to the Indiana Natural Resources Commission (“NRC”) to withdraw a similar bobcat hunting/trapping season proposal (LSA Document #17-436, April 17, 2018) following intense public opposition.

According to the unedited notes from the October 2018 closed-door meeting, “50 plus” supporters of consumptive use (i.e., hunting, trapping, etc.) were in attendance. Any shortcomings on the part of IDNR to satisfy the “more than thirty (30) bobcat sightings” per county threshold to qualify a county for bobcat hunting eligibility was likely easily remedied during this meeting alone.

House Bill 1407 has been deliberately tailored to advance IDNR’s failed agenda of establishing yet another predator killing season. If adopted as proposed, this bill will enable the “director” to circumvent all future public input on this issue while simultaneously flipping a middle finger to those who showed up in force to oppose a similar measure in May of 2018.

Dodging public input is a pattern and practice of IDNR. And the Indiana legislature seems far too willing to intervene to push IDNR’s agenda regardless of how ill-conceived it may be.

If a recreational bobcat hunting season is established, bobcat hunters will be able to hunt these animals with packs of hounds. Additionally, there is nothing that would legally preclude these animals from being targeted during predator competition kills, similar to the coyote and fox killing derbies currently held in Indiana.

House Bill 1407 leaves no doubt as to what was behind those dark meetings hosted by the Indiana legislators and IDNR. The only unknown at this point is whether the public is willing to tolerate its legislators and state agencies abusing their power and utterly ignoring the resounding opposition Hoosiers clearly expressed.

Comments may be sent to Rep. Lindauer at: h63@iga.in.gov.

 


Will Indiana DNR ignore public opposition and pursue bobcat hunting legislation?

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.

Photo: Zanesville Times Recorder

Photo: Zanesville Times Recorder

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.

CWE Continues its Legal Efforts to Protect Public Access to Public Lands and the Decision-Making Process

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?

deer-hunting-rifles.jpg

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.

 

IDNR restricted public access to state parks during the 2017 firearms season  when a CWE member was denied access  to enter Potato Creek State Park to take photographs, because the park was being used for rifle-deer-hunting. The only photos the CWE member could take that day were of the “Park Closed” barriers placed at the park entrance.

IDNR restricted public access to state parks during the 2017 firearms season when a CWE member was denied access to enter Potato Creek State Park to take photographs, because the park was being used for rifle-deer-hunting. The only photos the CWE member could take that day were of the “Park Closed” barriers placed at the park entrance.

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.

Bobcat Hunting/Trapping Season Discussion Continues: Purported Closed Door Meetings and Pro-Hunting Workshop

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.

sciencemag.org

sciencemag.org

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.

Click the letter to expand

Click the letter to expand

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.

Indiana NRC Pushes Commercial Trapping on State Park Lands

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.  

raccoon blog pic.jpg

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.

conbear+220.jpg

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.

Proposed Bobcat Season in Indiana: A Ploy by IDNR to Boost Interest in Hunting?

Bobcat-lynnhavenvillage.org.jpg

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.

Photo:  Great Cats of the World

Photo: Great Cats of the World

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.  

Photo: Outdoor Life

Photo: Outdoor Life

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?

Bobcat-burkemuseum.org.jpg

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.

AN “EMERGENCY” RULE FOR POLITICAL CONVENIENCE

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.

Source: Express photo by Pradeep Yadav

Source: Express photo by Pradeep Yadav

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.

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.

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. 

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