"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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DNR Director Takes Stand Against Deer-Pen Hunting Legislation
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

Kyle Hupfer, the Department of Natural Resources director who shocked the Hoosier outdoors/conservation community with his wholesale firing of Department of Natural Resources (DNR) brass a couple of weeks ago, may have mended some fences last week by standing up to the Indiana General Assembly in an important matter.

Hupfer, you may recall, slipped the stiletto between the ribs of 10 DNR trusted officials less than a month after he moved into the state office building. It did not set well with outdoor/conservation/resources-management folks from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River.

But last week, when the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee was staging a public hearing in an attempt to give the DNR’s authority to manage deer-pen hunting to the Board of Animal Health, Hupfer rose like a sleeping giant to thwart (at least temporarily) the underhanded tactics of pro deer-pen hunting legislators.

The pro deer-pen hunting people and their “hench legislators” have been trying for several years to legislate the Division of Fish and Wildlife out of the deer management business. The obvious rationale was that if the Board of Animal Health were running the deer-pen hunting show, this phony-baloney kind of hunting would have carte blanche authority over this totally unsavory, if not dangerous, “business.”

The stage obviously was set for the public hearing on a Senate Bill 527 that was about nothing in particular, perhaps not even germane. The secret confab would hear testimony from a pro-deer-pen hunting person, and the committee then would give its nod to the amendments which, if later adopted, would usurp the DFW’s authority to manage such hunting and give it to the Board of Animal Health, identified by some as a do-nothing arm of the Department of Public Health.

There was, however, a fly in the potato soup.

Hupfer, though not invited to speak at the hearing, heard about what was about to transpire, and called Paula Yeager, director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation, one of the state’s most important supporters of sound conservation/wildlife management practices. Because of health concerns, Yeager could not get to the meeting. But she alerted Dick Mercier, president of the Indiana Sportsmens Roundtable, a large organization of conservationists and outdoorsmen; Gene Hopkins, a spokesman for the Indiana Bowhunters Association, and Gary Doxtater, a former director of the DFW. Also present was Bowden Quinn, a lobbyist for the Indiana Division of the Izaak Walton League of Indiana.

I was not at the meeting, but a little mouse that slips around the Statehouse and other governmental venues, later told me how the proceeding unfolded on a floor that was not real level.

The august panel of legislators (all presumably elected to serve their constituencies) took up the business of the day, which was to amend the secret stuff into the Senate bill.

My informant says committee members listened intently occasionally nodding approvingly (or because they were taking a nap) while the pro deer-pen-hunting gentleman droned on about the necessity of doing something to make the lives of “deer farmers” better.

That part of the agenda finished, those opposed seemed to anticipate a chance to tell their side of the story. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the committee amended the “goobledy-goop” into the bill on a voice vote.

All was well for the black hats, it seemed. The committee was ready to move on to other matters without further input on the deer-pen hunting amendment by anybody.

But wait a minute, this upstart DNR director had indicated he had input in the matter, and was given the right to speak. Hupfer laid on the line that the committee was legislating the DNR out of the deer-pen management business without giving him a chance to state his case.

Some of the legislators present were not real pleased at the intrusion in what appeared to be a done deal. But they listened as Director Hupfer laid some facts on them that were hard to deny. When Hupfer was finished, the others opposed to the amendment could see no reason to offer further testimony in the matter.

After Hupfer’s input, some of the panel members seemed to change their tune, and Committee Chairman Eric Gutwein, (R-Rensselaer) offered the opinion that the panel may have acted hastily--that perhaps this matter should be studied more thoroughly before further action should be taken. It should also be said that Rep. Bob Bischoff, a member of the committee, had suggested changes in the amendment that would have made it less obtrusive. 

Another voice vote of the committee "unamended" the amendment.

Nobody at this point can say what may happen with this matter in the future, or whether Hupfer’s actions may have been an isolated incident brought about by the fact that the director is an avowed deer hunter.

Still, it was heartening for those who see natural resources issues as something more than hot air for political footballs to see a director of the DNR stand up on his hind legs and tell the legislators things they don’t necessarily want to know.

These observers, like many other conservationists and sportsmen of the state, also are wondering if the DNR will do a 180 from the last decade or so when biologists and other knowledgeable people of the DFW have not been allowed to offer their expertise in legislative matters involving natural/wildlife resources.

In the last several administrations, the input of hands-on people of the DNR and DFW has been replaced by liaison people who haven’t always understood all they knew about resource management situations. In some cases, biologists of the DFW have been ordered to express no opinions on legislative matters.

Could it be, folks are wondering, that the DNR will hark back to the good ol’ days when the welfare of resources was on a higher plane in the legislature than the desires of selfish people who prey on aforementioned resources? 

We will see.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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