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.

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.

INDIANA RULE PROPOSAL PROHIBITS LIVE RELEASE OF WILDLIFE SPECIES; REQUIRES KILLING

Scenarios like the following arise frequently, especially in the spring months. Imagine you are the property owner faced with this dilemma: 


raaccoonatticguide.com

raaccoonatticguide.com

You knew there was a spot near the roof in need of repair and you should have sealed it up before winter, but you procrastinated. It was just a matter of time before a mother raccoon decided your attic would serve as a suitable den site to raise her young. You can now hear the raccoon family stirring around upstairs. You’ve never had a problem sharing your neighborhood with the local wildlife, but you know wild animals shouldn’t be in your attic.

 What do you do about this unwanted intrusion? Chances are you search Google for “wildlife removal” or some similar search term and obtain the phone numbers of local trappers, known as Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators (NWCOs). So you choose a NWCO who comes to your house, offers to trap the whole family of raccoons, and informs you that he accepts cash or check. Upon further inquiry about his trapping methods, you learn that he intends to kill them by blunt force. You immediately recoil at the thought of this mother and her babies dying for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This cruelty hits you especially hard because you know it was your failure to repair the roof that caused all of this. What do you do?


Since you are reading the Center for Wildlife Ethics blog, it’s a safe bet you’ll attempt to hire another NWCO, one who is willing to use non-lethal alternatives for managing wildlife intrusions.

But if the Indiana Natural Resources Commission (NRC) has its way, making the sensible choice and hiring a service that prioritizes animal welfare and implements non-violent, permanent solutions to common wildlife problems will no longer be a legally permitted option.

The NRC is currently accepting public comments to its proposed rule package that imposes a mandatory kill requirement on all NWCOs who address raccoon, opossum, and coyote conflicts (312 IAC 9-10-11).

The NRC claims a mandatory kill provision is justified because raccoons and opossums can “become a nuisance when they get into attics and other buildings.”

Notably though, killing all trespassing wildlife does nothing to repair an access point in an attic or minimize the desirability of other unnatural wildlife attractants.

National Geographic

National Geographic

Vilifying these wild animals as nuisances and sentencing them to death for their mere presence on one’s property is punitive. It ignores the underlying problem, what served to attract the animal to the location to begin with. While the NWCO may drive off to the next job with a truck full of raccoon pelts, he leaves behind the open trash can, missing vent cover, structural disrepair, or other unnatural wildlife attractant that not only instigated the initial conflict, but will inevitably interest yet another unfortunate animals.

Mandatory kill provisions perpetuate a cycle of violence that is already rampant in Indiana. As the NRC openly admits, trappers “are already euthanizing the majority of these animals.” (It should be noted that killing healthy animals for human convenience is not “euthanasia,” but that’s another discussion).

NRC’s proposed rule furthers the political and economic agenda of unscrupulous NWCOs and their trade associations, who typically have little interest in exploring non-lethal solutions and rely on reoccurring wildlife conflicts to help keep them in business and boost profits.

This irresponsible rule normalizes brutal practices and sanitizes the industry’s pro-killing agenda in the minds of the public. When faced with a concerned and compassionate customer, NWCOs could claim, “We have no choice in the matter. State law requires us to kill these animals.”

The NRC’s proposed rule change is so punitive it not only prohibits the relocation of these species but also prohibits releasing raccoons, opossums, and coyotes on-site and within the animal’s own established territories.

The NRC supports its morally bankrupt position by contending that raccoon and coyote populations are high. Yet the agency has no similar justification for another section in the rule package (312 IAC 9-10-4) that encourages/enables private individuals to breed these same species in captivity.

Pinterest

Pinterest

Surely, if there are so many raccoons, opossums and coyotes that the state must require NWCOs to kill every single one they trap, it would be hypocritical for NRC to allow individuals to profit commercially by breeding more of these same allegedly overpopulated animals.

Obviously, the Center for Wildlife Ethics staunchly opposes NRC’s mandatory kill provision (and this outrageous rule package in its entirety). NWCOs and/or property owners must have the legal right to contract for and implement non-violent solutions to common wildlife problems. Greed and political expedience cannot trump this legal reality, nor should it take priority over decency and common sense.

Please join CWE in opposition to the NRC’s rule package. Take a moment to submit a personalized comment here to defend Indiana’s wildlife. The public comment period closes at the end of day on March 23, 2018.

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.

RIFLES SERVE NO LEGITIMATE PURPOSE ON PUBLIC PROPERTY

In 2016, the Indiana General Assembly enacted I.C. § 14-22-2-8 -- “Deer hunting; permitted firearms; required report”. This statute (subsection (b)(1)) limited rifle use to privately owned property during the firearms season. In 2017, this statute was amended by the legislature but the limiting provision remained intact.

Despite this clear legislative mandate, IDNR repeatedly permitted rifle access to public lands for deer hunting purposes while denying access to the public in both 2016 and 2017.

Signs at Potato Creek State Park, IN, November 27, 2017

Signs at Potato Creek State Park, IN, November 27, 2017

On January 10th, 2018, the Indiana Senate Judiciary Committee passed (8-1) Senate Bill 20 – a bill that again amends I.C. § 14-22-2-8. Unlike the previous versions, this bill does not limit rifle use exclusively to privately owned land and in fact, if adopted, would enable IDNR to authorize rifle access for hunting purposes on public land during four (4) deer hunting seasons – seasons that have historically spanned a period of 5 months. During this time, the public will be excluded from entering the public park(s) for all other uses.

Senate Bill 20 is of significant public import. Public land is reserved for the recreational use of everyone. Rifles are inherently dangerous instrumentalities and serve no legitimate purpose on public property.

Any benefit from allowing rifles on public property comes at great expense to the public at large and confers little, if any benefit, on any specific person.

What’s most disturbing about the proposed amendments is the Senate Judiciary Committee’s complicity in IDNR’s deliberate defiance of the clear legislative mandate. The message being telegraphed to all executive agencies is to simply ignore any legislation deemed unfavorable or inconvenient. The will of the people be damned.

The history of this statute is also disturbing. This statute was sold to elected officials in 2016 as a pilot program that would serve to gather data to determine the impact of rifle use for a limited duration of time. Yet every year this statute gets amended.

Of what value will data serve when the parameters are repeatedly altered?

Please contact your Indiana state Senator and respectfully urge him/her to protect the public’s safety and best interests by opposing SB 20.

(You can locate your elected Indiana state officials here.)

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. 

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.

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