Wildlife agencies desperate to create the illusion they’re relevant

In September 2018, the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies released a marketing campaign toolkit to address the state wildlife agencies’ greatest challenge:

“…the perception that they are relevant and important only to hunters and anglers.”

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As those actively involved in wildlife and/or public land protection already know, the state wildlife agency’s preferential treatment to consumptive users (e.g., those who hunt, trap and fish) is not just a perception, but rather, a reality. Agency actions routinely focus on managing public lands and manipulating wildlife populations for hunter/angler satisfaction with little to no regard given to the larger public or the animals exploited. 

This marketing campaign toolkit seems to suggest that the stewards of our natural wild resources are beginning to acknowledge that catering solely to the 4% of the nation’s population who hunt (and 14% who fish) is a bad business model.

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However, rather than actually working to adopt an organizational mission and function that truly prioritizes the non-hunting majority’s needs and preferences, the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies chooses to coach the state agencies in how to most effectively reach audiences they’ve historically ignored. In other words, the Association would rather hire marketing pros to create the illusion that wildlife agencies serve the broader public, than actually put any effort into examining how they’ve failed non-hunters and their duties as natural resource stewards.

Their toolkit provides state agencies with clever marketing pointers for duping target audiences into believing that they serve the larger public, while, behind the scenes, the agencies are free to continue to route the vast majority of their resources and energy to consumptive uses. 

Although the toolkit primarily targets non-hunters and therefore explicitly categorizes hunters and anglers* as a "secondary audience", the smaller print offers clarification:

“Hunters and anglers are likely to be the priority audience for some states…Messages cannot alienate core constituency of hunters and anglers.”

This clever marketing kit, promoting the theme, “Making it Last”,  covers every imaginable detail including identification of the wildlife agencies’ target audiences, the preferred demographic for campaign imagery, and the most effective colors and font choices. Prepared branding materials, positioning guidelines, video scripts, and marketing tactics for paid and nonpaid media aid state agencies in targeting each specific category of consumer with their propaganda.

making it last.PNG

Whether their professional marketing strategy convinces these targeted audiences that state wildlife agencies are relevant for anything other than pandering to the recreational hunters, trappers, and anglers is yet to be seen.

Unlike other social issues that die a natural death following the loss of public support and appeal, recreational killing is artificially supported by the endless supply of money generated via the Wildlife Restoration Act funding scheme. Coincidentally, making “it” last is clearly in the state and federal wildlife agencies’ best interests.

Meanwhile, wildlife and public land protectionists who work tirelessly defending the public good from state wildlife agency’s political maneuvers, often operate on shoe-string budgets. They cannot afford professional marketing services yet do their best to advance the unspoken, shared campaign of “Making it Stop” – “it” being the agency bureaucracy that routinely favors the destruction of public assets for commercial gain.

AFWA’s toolkit provides guidance to state wildlife agencies regarding campaign design, including video scripts. Since Center for Wildlife Ethics has spent years actively challenging wildlife agencies’ mismanagement of natural resources, fixation on killing, and preferential treatment of hunters, trappers and anglers, we couldn’t resist making a short video—albeit on a much smaller budget—modeled after the “Making it Last” campaign:

* (The trapping community has been left out of this discussion altogether)

Wildlife Killing Contests – Incentivizing Violence and Lining Pockets

The frequency of headlines boasting large payouts to hunters who participate in predator killing contests is alarming. A recent article from Pennsylvania reports that nearly $50,000 in prize money was awarded to coyote hunters during the 2019 Mosquito Creek Coyote Hunt alone.

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According to the Mosquito Creek Sportsmen’s Association’s website, 4,812 hunters registered for this event. The casualties included 227 coyotes who were officially weighed in following three-days of violence.

The coyotes were destroyed by a variety of means: “bait”, “dogs”, “call”, and “driving”. But what do these killing methods actually entail?

·       Baiting: “enticing, tempting or captivating a predatory species to a certain location with food”. 

·       Dogs: as decoys; to track/chase a coyote until exhausted and killed by the hunter; or to pursue and maul the coyote to death (coursing).

·       Call: to exploit the animal’s natural instincts by luring them to their death via hand or electronic “call” devices that mimic the sounds of distressed prey animals and/or other stimulating sounds.

·       Driving: teams of hunters work together by assigning someone to track/locate coyotes in a given area and chase them from their cover as the remaining hunter(s) lie in wait at the other end of the designated area until the coyotes are chased conveniently into their line of fire.

Despite a level of unfairness, deception and entrapment that is anything but “sporting”, there appears to be no ethical concerns in the minds (and hearts) of the wildlife stewards and others who profit from the violence.

And it appears most everyone profits from the suffering of these animals.

The hunt’s posted rules require that all participants possess a valid hunting or fur-taker license. This licensing revenue flows into the wildlife agency’s coffers and is later matched proportionally by federal dollars.

All hunt participants must maintain current membership status at Mosquito Creek Sportsmen’s Association thus generating a revenue stream via membership dues. Another financial benefit is derived from the administration fee that is included in the hunt registration fee – $2.00 per participant, or $9,620.

Other beneficiaries, of course, are the contest winners themselves who profit handsomely.

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The government – at both the federal and state level – also gets a cut of the proceeds generated by the killing as the distributed awards are taxable income. According to the contest rules, IRS W-9 Forms will be issued in January 2020.

Folks who are not entrenched in the culture of killing often question the integrity of those who participate in such brutality.

Ironically, it seems the contest organizers do so as well.

According to posted hunt “rules and regulations”, the “Association reserves the right to have an autopsy performed on any animal presented” if it believes the coyote was killed illegally or by unapproved means. 

All registered hunters must agree to undergo a polygraph test. Anyone who fails to cooperate will be disqualified.

Failing a polygraph test results in disqualification from the current competition, all future hunts, and the revocation of club membership.

The rules remind hunters that “the disposal” of all coyotes is their responsibility. A $50 fine will be assessed for any coyote left on the premises.

Astonishingly, it seems the contest organizers anticipate their fellow hunters – presumably friends, colleagues, and family members – to be an unsavory group of folks who are likely to lie, cheat, and treat their victims like trash.

Why wouldn’t everyone else view these people in a similar light, especially given the depravity sanctioned, glorified, and rewarded by these killing competitions?

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?

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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.

Call To Action for Indiana Bobcats

Indiana citizens who went to great lengths to submit comments and attend public hearings to vocalize opposition to IDNR’s rule package (#17-436), rightfully feel betrayed by the latest news of IDNR’s upcoming workshop and recent meeting with hunters and trappers apparently meant to garner support for the implementation of a bobcat hunting and trapping season. This, despite the Department’s recent public announcement that the agency would not adopt a bobcat season.

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Some proponents of a bobcat season contend these animals are abundant and allegedly causing problems with domestic animals and other “nuisance” complaints. As evidenced by IDNR’s own “Proposed Limited Bobcat Harvest Season FAQs” these claims are unsubstantiated.

Not surprisingly, this information was recently removed from the agency’s webpage shortly following CWE’s blog post criticizing the agency’s rule package. Among the information that IDNR has taken offline is the following:

“We get very few reports of bobcats being a nuisance or causing damage. The proposal to have a limited season is not because of complaints or conflicts with bobcats…”

(IDNR’s FAQ page was removed from its website, but you can view it in its entirety here.)

Contrived bobcat conflicts fail to justify any need for a hunting and trapping season as any allegedly "problematic" bobcats can legally be managed under the authority of a “nuisance wild animal control permit” (312 IAC 9-3-18.1(a)).

Here’s how you can help Indiana Bobcats:

·        Write to Governor Eric Holcomb at:

Office of the Governor

Statehouse

Indianapolis, IN 46204-2797

Or contact Governor Holcomb via webform at: https://www.in.gov/gov/2752.htm

·        And/or contact Governor Holcomb's press secretary Rachel Hoffmeyer, 317-914-5634, rhoffmeyer@gov.in.gov to raise awareness about the IDNR's recent actions.

·        Urge the Governor to instruct IDNR’s Director, Cameron Clark, to honor the spirit of the agency’s act in May 2018 when the bobcat hunting and trapping provisions were withdrawn from the rule package. Request that IDNR cease and desist all activity that directly or indirectly serves to advance the implementation of a bobcat hunting or trapping season.

·        Be sure to maintain copies of all correspondence with Governor Holcomb or his Press Secretary for future reference.

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.

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.)

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.

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:

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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.