Well, it happened, just about the way we have told you it might on numerous
occasions since the Indiana General Assembly convened last fall.
Yes, House Bill (HB) 1977, an apparently harmless bill which addressed
some driving school programs and a few other inconsequential matters, on
March 4 became a very controversial bill which may (if adopted by the legislature
and signed into law) usurp the Department of Natural Resources lawful mandate
to manage the state’s white-tailed deer.
The transfer was easy, painless, and so convincing that after it was
done, the full House gave the measure a solid aye vote.
Now it awaits action in the Senate.
What the bill would do is make deer in fenced areas the ward of the
Indiana Department of Public Health’s Board of Animal Health. That agency
would be charged with the responsibility of issuing permits for those who
want to breed wild deer in captivity and, undoubtedly, charge exorbitant
prices for those who want to hunt them.
If it becomes law, the measure also would negate a recent decision of
DNR Director John Goss to issue no new permits for the so-called breeders
of wild deer. Goss’ order permits holders of existing permits to renew
In its present form, HB1977 is fraught with foibles.
From the catbird seat I have occupied for some 50 years, it seems that
one--but only one of many---of the big issues revolves around the fact
that the proposed law appears to be aimed at helping a few individuals
(fewer than you would need to count on the fingers of one hand) get rich
by exploiting white-tailed deer.
Those who want to hunt deer in enclosures (deer pens) have pointed out
from the start that they did not want to “hunt” wild deer in their enclosures
(just deer they have acquired from other states). To prove it, an eight-foot
fence has been proposed--even built in one case--to separate the imported
deer from our wild deer. One of the backers of the deer-pen concept (indeed,
an owner of such a facility) has said that an eight-foot fence is no contest
for a deer.
So how do you keep our wild deer, which belong to some six million Hoosiers,
from joining their penned brethren, when they get the sweet smell of food.
You don’t have to put up signs to guide wild deer to food sources.
There are, of course, many other weak points in HB 1977.
When the Natural Resources Legislative Study Committee considered the
deer-pen concept last summer, a representative of the State Board of Animal
Health was asked if that agency needed additional laws to govern deer-farming
operations. His answer: No!
The big rub of the whole issue stems from the fact that a few--possibly
only one--such operation does not want to confine its get-rich-quick scheme
to regular deer-hunting seasons.
So there you have it. Unless the Senate sidetracks this scheme, hundreds
of thousands of Hoosiers who don’t want the bill to become law will be
saddled with it so a few can exploit our wild deer.
An Indiana statute defines the authority and responsibilities of the
DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife:
Title 14, Article 22, Chapter 2, Section 3
The [Division of Fish and Wildlife] shall . . . provide for the protection,
reproduction, care, management, survival and regulation of wild animal
populations regardless of whether the wild animals are present on public
or private property . . . [and] Organize and pursue a program of research
and management of wild animals that will serve the best interests of the
resources and the people of Indiana.