"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Fish and Wildlife Management Must Be Based On Biological Facts
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

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 his home.

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 resource.

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 resources?”

The quote still seems to fit.

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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