INDIANAPOLIS–The Indiana Natural Resources Commission on November 16, 2010 voted 9-2 to issue an operating permit to the only coyote and fox chase pen currently in the state, and to prohibit others from starting after January 1, 2012–which leaves other would-be Indiana chase pen proprietors a year to begin.
The ruling “was technically a preliminary approval that sets in motion an extensive public comment period,” explained Dan McFeely of the Indianapolis Star. “The final decision is expected within the next year. State Representative Linda Lawson (D-Hammond) has already heard from opponents and is planning to co-author a bill with Representative David Cheatham (D-North Vernon) to outlaw the enclosures.”
“It’s barbaric, and nothing but a blood sport. We are going to lobby hard against this,” Central Indiana Kennel Club legislative liaison Jessie Burkhart told McFeely.
“This has evolved to take the place of dogfighting, to satisfy these people who like blood sport,” charged Indiana Coyote Rescue Center founder CeAnn Lambert.
Indiana Veterinary Medical Association past president Janet Houghton, DVM, and 11 other Indiana veterinarians co-signed an open letter to media opposing the Natural Resources Commission ruling.
The existing chase pen, at Linton in southern Indiana, is reportedly owned by Indiana Beaglers Alliance president Jack Hyden. The Indiana Beaglers Alliance claims about 200 members.
Laura Nirenberg, executive director of Wildlife Orphanage in LaPorte, Indiana, said she believes the year-long opening for additional chase pens to start will attract operators from other states where they are now banned or restricted.
Nirenberg sent a stack of documents she obtained through open records requests to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources which suggest that the department recommended that the Natural Resources Commission should allow chase pens despite the weight of evidence against them that was recognized by the department itself.
“Running enclosures do not always provide for fair chase,” an Indiana DNR internal report recognized on October 26, 2010. “The incidence of various diseases and parasites between captive and wild animals is increased within enclosures and poses a significant threat both to the health of the wild animal population and to humans,” the report continued. “The raccoon strain of rabies was transferred to Mid-Atlantic States from a shipment of raccoons by private hunting clubs; coyote-variant canine rabies was transferred to a Florida pen from Texas.”
The DNR report identified 10 other serious diseases which also might be introduced by translocating coyotes and foxes to be hunted in chase pens.
“Regardless of the regulations in place governing the chasing of coyotes in enclosures,” the DNR report acknowledged, “there will always be some illegal activities. In states where running/training enclosures are permitted, law enforcement operations have found illegal buying, selling and possessing of certain species of wild animals, in addition to cruelty to animals, in running/training enclosures.”
The Indiana DNR in 2007 charged a chase pen supplier with multiple counts of illegally shipping wildlife in connection with Operation Foxote, a multi-state investigation initiated by the Alabama Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Division. Indiana conservation officer John Salb told Associated Press at the time that chase pen hunting could best be described as “prolonged agony” for the victim animals.
Altogether, Operation Foxote brought the arrests of 18 people and the seizure of 55 foxes, 25 coyotes, two bobcats, and 33 cardinals who were apparently used as bait to catch foxes and coyotes. The investigators also found and seized a moonshine still.
The Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries on the same day in 2007 conducted simultaneous surprise inspections of all 41 licensed “training preserves” in Virginia, closing 31 due to alleged permit violations.
Continued the October 26, 2010 Indiana DNR report, “By allowing running enclosures to obtain animals from the wild, these wild-caught animals are then held in captivity by private individuals and used for a commercial purpose, converting wild animals that are the property of the people of Indiana to private use.”
But the Indiana DNR rationalized this by pointing out that wildlife rehabilitators–like Lambert and Nirenberg–are also allowed to keep formerly wild coyotes.
“The public perception of the DNR authorizing running enclosures, which has never been done, could damage the public’s view of trappers and hunters,” the DNR acknowledged. The DNR cited nine Midwestern and Appalachian states that allow chase pens, but several Southern states where chase pens were once common now ban them.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission banned hounding foxes and coyotes in fenced enclosures on September 1, 2010. The similar practice of setting dogs on pigs in enclosures, also done in the name of teaching dogs to hunt, called “hog/dog rodeo,” was outlawed in Louisiana in 2004, and in Alabama and Mississippi in 2006.
“The Indiana DNR supports the concept of fair chase and has taken a stand against canned hunting of captive cervids and other species,” the DNR report said.
The DNR allows breeders to produce hooved stock for sale to hunting ranches, but in 2005 then-DNR director Kyle Hupfer issued an emergency rule prohibiting hunting of hooved animals behind fences.
The DNR defended the rule against legal challenges, and were partially vindicated in 2009 by an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis among captive-raised deer at sites in Franklin and Warren County, and a shooting preserve in Harrison County.
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