Posted on Sun, Aug. 27, 2006
What looked like a satisfying end to a despicable business now appears to be a diversion to benefit high-fenced hunting preserve owners. A proposed settlement allowing the illegal operations to continue for another decade is an unacceptable resolution.
Kyle Hupfer, director of the Department of Natural Resources, announced a year ago that the state would no longer tolerate the “canned hunting” operations that cater to wealthy hunters who pay to shoot animals within confined areas.
“This is something that is just extremely unethical,” Hupfer said at the time, winning accolades from hunting and conservation groups alike.
But the DNR director told The Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly last week that the hunts will likely continue for another 10 years – the result of a settlement negotiated with Rodney Bruce, a southern Indiana hunting preserve owner who had sued to remain in business. The agreement also extends to five other canned hunting operations. Hupfer insists the agreement is fair to the preserve owners, who have much invested in their businesses and who are entitled to property rights.
He also suggests that an unfavorable ruling in the lawsuit could prove costly to the DNR, although that point is unclear. What seems more likely is that Hupfer has been pressured by legislators sympathetic to the canned-hunting operators to allow them plenty of time to recoup their interests.
There’s good reason the preserve operators are celebrating the settlement – it’s a clear victory for them. The fact that they are enthusiastically promoting the upcoming hunting season is an affront to all those who have worked to preserve sportsmanlike behavior in hunting. And the settlement is a clear loss for anyone who supports time-honored concepts regarding wildlife and the doctrine of fair chase – giving animals a sporting chance to escape.
Doug Allman, an advocate with the Indiana Deer Hunters Association, is right when he says the settlement is the wrong approach.
“It’s bogus for us to say it’s wrong and unethical but then look the other way for 10 years,” Allman told The Journal Gazette.
As for lawmakers, he suggests that if they approve of the practice of canned hunting, they should vote to legalize it and make themselves accountable to voters.
The proposed settlement goes far beyond fair in offering protection for this illegal business. It should be scrapped and the lawsuit allowed to proceed. A case in Montana ended with a federal court ruling that the state not only had a right to shut down high-fence hunting operations, but also a responsibility to do so.
In Indiana, the preserve owners had fair warning. The DNR should stick with its early intentions to enforce the law and shut down these businesses.