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.

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          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.