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.”

afwa_logo.jpg

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.

afwa marketing kit.PNG

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)

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.

 


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.

bobcat photo.jpg

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.

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.

But you won...why are you appealing?

In 2011, an Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) employee’s body-crushing (conibear) fur trap killed Melodie Liddle’s beloved dog, Copper at Versailles State Park. The deadly device, situated 15’ feet from a paved roadway, was just one of dozens of traps scattered throughout Versailles and potentially hundreds of traps hidden within Indiana State Parks by commercial fur trappers. IDNR deliberately concealed all commercial fur trapping activity from the public.

Copper Color Scan 2.jpg

IDNR personnel repeatedly dodged Melodie’s attempts to discuss the agency’s trapping policy in the aftermath of Copper’s tragic death. When a call from the agency finally did arrive, it did not come from state park personnel or law enforcement, but rather IDNR’s Director of Communications who tape recorded the conversation without Melodie’s knowledge. The Communications Director offered no assurance that steps would be implemented to prevent future trapping deaths. In fact, three weeks after Melodie buried her dog, IDNR issued yet another “Emergency Rule” to enable more commercial fur trapping on Park properties.

Deadly devices have no legitimate purpose on public park land

Conibear traps are inherently dangerous and are used with the sole intent to kill. They do so violently and indiscriminately.

Shattered by her loss and frustrated by IDNR’s indifference, Melodie sought legal remedy for the agency’s reckless disregard of public safety.  

Melodie’s Tort Claim Prevails against IDNR

In June 2017, Marion County Superior Court decided Melodie’s hard fought case in her favor, finding IDNR negligent for failing to warn state park patrons that their employee was maintaining deadly wildlife traps. While a victory acknowledging IDNR’s negligence is a critical step towards justice for Copper and Melodie Liddle, the consequences of this ruling are meager and fail to prohibit future commercial fur trapping activities on state park properties or promote transparency within an agency that customarily operates in the dark.

To address the insufficiency of the trial court’s remedy, the Center for Wildlife Ethics (CWE) filed an appeal with the Indiana Appellate Court on Melodie’s behalf.

quora

quora

IDNR’s Indecency

Melodie’s devastating loss, was further compounded by the agency’s duplicity and relentless victim blaming.

Immediately following Copper’s death, IDNR worked to disguise commercial fur trapping as a public service needed for managing “nuisance” wildlife in the parks. The agency, unable to provide any evidence of a “nuisance” animal problem in Indiana State Parks, even went so far as to tout an alleged “nuisance wildlife program”. IDNR’s Director of Communications admitted, when confronted by CWE, there was no such program.

IDNR worked to deflect the blame for Copper’s death onto Melodie. Baseless accusations were raised in the media about whether her dogs were properly leashed, despite the evidence that proved they were. IDNR also raised issues regarding the trap’s location, suggesting that it was planted securely in an inaccessible location and off-limits to the public, which is untrue.

IDNR later argued in court that Melodie was contributorily negligent for Copper’s death. According to IDNR, park patrons who pay to visit state parks cannot venture down a 15-foot trail (created by the trapper himself) to a shallow creek so dogs can get a quick drink of water.

The trial court rightfully rejected this ridiculous notion. The court also agreed with Melodie that no reasonable person could have anticipated the reckless disregard of public safety demonstrated by IDNR. Nor would anyone reasonably expect to encounter an illegal, deadly device on state park land hidden by the Park’s so-called security officer.

The Legal Remedy is inadequate

Melodie suffered real, tangible damage. The law (and society) recognizes her tragedy as a tort, yet the courts offer very little in the form of any real remedy.

Tort law is meant to make an injured party whole, yet the ruling in this case contradicts this reasonable and essential objective. According to an earlier trial court ruling, Melodie is entitled to nothing more than “fair market value” or essentially, a replacement dog.

In Melodie’s case, “fair market” valuation is fundamentally flawed. There is no “market value” for a senior, mixed-breed dog who was rescued from a neglectful situation and beloved by Melodie for nearly 10 years. Copper was not a commercial animal with any inherent market value. She was never within the stream of commerce, nor could she ever be.

eaglecountryonline.com

eaglecountryonline.com

Copper and Melodie treasured a bond built on loyalty, and emotional and physical comfort. Copper’s value stems from this mutual affection and devotion. A “replacement” is inadequate when the loss suffered is another living being whose value is derived solely from a sentimental bond and shared life experiences.

“Fair market value” analysis is complicated by internal contradictions. External transactions (food, housing, veterinary care, etc.) are a natural consequence of the human-animal bond and are routinely acknowledged by the law, yet the intrinsic value of special, cherished relationships is often deemed nominal at best.

Equally notable, there’s nothing “fair” about a damage award that fails to acknowledge the horror Melodie experienced while wrestling frantically to free her dog from IDNR’s deadly wildlife trap.

Melodie is uniquely situated to legally challenge IDNR

Legal standing (the right to sue) is often an unsurmountable hurdle for individuals seeking a legal remedy to harmful and/or illegal agency actions. Lacking an injury-in-fact, conscientious citizens are typically unable to avail themselves of judicial intervention. The average citizen is muted.

Clearly, Melodie has suffered an injury – one proximately caused by IDNR’s shocking negligence. Her loss, or the “nexus” to the agency’s actions, uniquely qualifies Melodie to challenge IDNR’s statutory authority to permit commercial fur trappers to maintain deadly traps on Indiana State Park properties, and personally profit while doing so.

Given the strict standing requirements imposed by courts, Melodie may be the only person who could legally challenge IDNR on its reckless conduct and policies.

An appeal is critical to achieving meaningful change

While the trial court’s recent decision rightfully held that IDNR’s actions were negligent, this ruling simply creates an illusion of justice. A 2016 court order foreclosed Melodie’s opportunity to hold IDNR accountable in any meaningful sense.

The court never ruled on the legitimacy of IDNR’s commercial fur trapping activities. Although IDNR stopped using the “Emergency Rule” after 2013,  there is no evidence that commercial fur trapping and the sale of pelts is not on-going. More importantly, nothing in the trial court’s Order prevents IDNR from allowing this to happen again.  

Granted, a sentimental damage award and a legal prohibition to IDNR’s reckless behavior can never make Melodie “whole” given the horror she and Copper endured. But, a strong message can be sent that this level of negligence is indefensible and will not be tolerated. Thus the purpose of Melodie’s appeal.

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

You’ve been following Center for Wildlife Ethics’s updates on important litigation in Indiana, Liddle v. Clark, et al., a case involving outrageous recklessness by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (“IDNR”) in public parks.

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

After years of tireless work on behalf of plaintiff Melodie Liddle, CWE obtained a big win for companion animals, their guardians, and wildlife in Indiana. The Marion Superior Court #2 ruled that the State of Indiana was negligent for failing to warn park patrons that their employee was maintaining hidden, deadly animal traps throughout state park property.

The circumstances of this case are quite disturbing. This litigation started after Ms. Liddle’s beloved dog, Copper was killed in a steel trap about 15 feet from a paved roadway at Versailles State Park (“Park”). The deadly trap was hidden inside a wooden box built into an embankment near Laughery Creek’s edge.

Following Copper’s gruesome death, Ms. Liddle discovered that dozens of these deadly devices had been hidden throughout the Park by an IDNR employee. The employee was trapping raccoons at Versailles and selling the animal pelts for 8 years with IDNR’s knowledge, but without legal authorization.

Versailles State Park, Indiana

Versailles State Park, Indiana

Ms. Liddle persisted when the IDNR repeatedly leveled absurd defenses, asserting, for example, that she somehow was to blame for Copper’s death. Fortunately, the Court rejected the state’s claim that Ms. Liddle was contributorily negligent by walking a few feet down a path to allow her dogs a drink of water.

CWE’s efforts to obtain justice for Copper and Ms. Liddle are ongoing. We are already hard at work on an appeal of the Court’s earlier rulings in this case. But we wanted to pause briefly to share what is truly a meaningful victory for everyone: animals and the unsuspecting public who were (or could be) put at  grave risk by IDNR’s illegitimate practices.

Thank you for making it possible with your unwavering support. We will continue to provide updates on our progress on this important litigation and further detail the issues addressed in Ms. Liddle’s appeal.

Conservation Increasingly Funded By Non-Hunters

          The sport hunting[i]  contingent, and specifically the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has asserted for years that conservation and wildlife management is a “user-pay, user benefit” system. This assertion is far from reality. The American taxpayers, including the non-hunting, firearm-owning segment of the public, has been providing enormous and mandatory subsidies to the hunting industry for decades.[ii]

vocativ.com

vocativ.com

          In 2016, the Center for Wildlife Ethics published “Killing for Fun(ds)” to highlight the state wildlife agencies’ financial dependency on license sales that perpetuates the recreational killing of wildlife.

          “Although wildlife agencies assure the public that lethal policies are aimed at preserving ecological diversity, it has much more to do with preserving the acceptance of hobby killing, increasing hunting participation, maximizing the carrying capacity of land to increase preferred game species numbers, and ultimately ensuring a reliable funding base for the agency.”

          The article also addressed The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (commonly referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act) – a constant and indefinite wildlife conservation funding source derived from an excise tax on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment.

          Since Pittman-Robertson was first enacted in 1937, more than $10 billion dollars have been channeled to state wildlife agencies and “stakeholders” who support recreational killing of wildlife or profit from it.

          Wildlife agency budgets rely heavily on recreational killing license sales and matching federal funds sent to the agencies under Pittman-Robertson. Thus consumptive users (a/k/a hunters and trappers), a very small yet vocal lobbying minority, are elevated to the agency’s primary constituency. The consumptive users’ interests and demands routinely dictate wildlife policies due in part to Pittman-Robertson’s matching financial scheme.

          In essence, the economic influence of hunters and trappers is literally doubled along with their political influence. Meanwhile non-consumptive members of the public whose agendas are not amplified by federal government funding are all but ignored. This cozy relationship is one reason compassionate voices seeking nonviolence in wildlife policy are so frequently silenced.

wikipedia.com

wikipedia.com

          Notably, the steady decline in hunting participation and the wildlife agencies’ reliance on an inequitable and antiquated funding system has created a shift in agency culture. Rather than focusing attention on preserving natural lands and resources for all, the industry is focusing increased efforts on peddling killing opportunities and crafting clever linguistics to convince the public that it has their best interests in mind.

          Although messaging surrounding Pittman-Robertson has consistently applauded hunters as the sole contributors, the non-hunting public increasingly contributes to this fund.

          The conservation community is acknowledging the “downward trend in the national hunting rate” as evidenced by a recent article, “The Growth of Sport Shooting Participation” in The Wildlife Professional (March/April 2017). According to the authors[iii], “sport shooters who do not hunt now make up an increasingly important segment” of the shooting population.

          “Wildlife professionals, agencies and organizations will need to recognize the implications of this shifting demographic and take appropriate steps if the PR Act is to remain a viable user-pay, user-benefit program for wildlife conservation programs.

Michigan DNR

Michigan DNR

          Unfortunately, what has not yet been acknowledged by the conservation community is the vast number of sport shooters who value wild animals alive and would not support recreational killing if given a choice. Many of whom may also believe that truly conserving wildlife is incompatible with killing animals or growing wildlife populations for the sole purpose of satisfying hunter demands.

          It is also time to recognize the hunting industry’s assertions that hunters pay for everything is an absolute falsehood. The majority of the public and sport shooters are not hunters or more specifically, “users” of wildlife resources and they deserve a voice in how wildlife is managed that is proportionate to their majority status.

 

[i] The term “sport hunting” refers to killing for fun, hobby or recreation. Neither the activity, nor the use of the word “sport” to describe it, is condoned by CWE.

[ii] Mark E. Smith and Donald A. Molde, “Wildlife Conservation and Management Funding in the U.S., Oct. 2014.

[iii] Mark Damian Duda, Tom Beppler and John Organ.

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.