Deer-pen hunting supposedly ended last week when Indiana Department
of Natural Resources Director Kyle Hupfer issued an order that hunting
deer--and several other big game animals--in enclosures must cease.
That touched off a wave of kudos and back-slapping among opponents of
this highly questionable activity, the tenor of their thinking seemed to
be that “ . . . we did it! . . . with a torrent of telephone calls, e-mail
and regular mail.”
It is my sincere hope that nothing could be further from reality.
Sure, I have been hammer-and-tongs against deer-pen hunting since the
concept raised its ugly head several years ago in the Indiana General Assembly.
I have written letters to the powers that be; made telephone calls and
sent e-mails to the same people, and urged others to do likewise.
But never have I thought or written that the decision on this ugly matter
should be determined by public opinion.
In more that half a century of rubbing elbows daily with the greatest
citizens you will find in Indiana (those who hunt, fish and otherwise enjoy
our outdoor heritage), and biologists and technical people of the Department
of Natural Resources, I have come to realize that fish and wildlife management
must be based on biological facts, not public fancy.
When I was a kid, the state paid a bounty on fox, crows, and probably
a few other critters. But it wasn’t right then, and it wouldn’t be right
now. The rationale was that these critters--including hawks and owls--killed
birds and small game, and thus, should be eliminated.
I vividly remember walking into the “office” (cubbyhole) of the Director
of the then Division of Fish and Game to find the “chief,” (good political
connections) smoking the biggest, blackest cigar I had ever seen with his
feet propped up on his desk--the welfare of wildlife, if anything, a figment
of his nightmares.
Another scenario that could not become a column for obvious reasons,
involved a director of the then Department of Conservation, who called
some conservation officers (then game wardens) into his office to inform
them he would like to have some smallmouth bass for stocking a stream near
No sooner said that did . . . the bass were captured with a seine, and
that weekend there was a huge fish fry for the director’s political chums.
A few years later Col. Kenny Marlin became director of the then Department
of Conservation, and he seemed to put wildlife and resources agencies on
track. Marlin, of course, was the fair-haired boy of the Indiana Council
of Conservation Clubs, an organization that eventually would become the
Indiana Wildlife Federation.
There followed in the Department of Natural Resources and the Division
of Fish and Wildlife a long line of people like John Mitchell, Woody Fleming,
Bill Barnes, Hovey Pritchett (to name a few). And before long, fish and
wildlife, and resources management, was prefaced by what was good for the
For many years the welfare of resources held sway when it would have
been easy to take the other route.
Then, some 20 years ago (give or take a few years), the concept of pleasing
the public--to hell with the resource--came into being. Armchair biologists
having an envelope with first-class postage, a piece of grocery bag, and
a pencil, could tell highly trained biologists and technicians how to manage
wildlife and resources.
I am not saying that being a well-trained biologist or technician puts
the stamp of “Grade A” on any person. From time-to-time our resources agencies
have had some real duds, and still do. Generally, though, the biologists
and technicians I have dealt with daily are concerned about the welfare
of the resources they manage.
From there we went to public hearings on matters that would have been
better handled by biologists and technicians without public input. That
is where we stand now. It doesn’t seem to matter what is best for the resource,
the important thing is what the public thinks.
From this catbird seat, Hupfer’s edict on deer-pen hunting is a refreshing
departure from the norm. The tragedy lies in the fact that the last few
administrations allowed management of wildlife and natural resources to
slip out of the hands of people who are trained and educated to best handle
such matters. Hupfer should never have had to act.
As this column observed last March, when Hupfer managed to stop legislation
aimed at giving deer-pen hunting free rein:
“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
The quote still seems to fit.