INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers again are debating the question of how the state should regulate high-fenced deer hunting preserves as opponents continue to argue such hunting is inhumane and should be banned.
The state Senate is scheduled to consider a bill in the coming week that would require any new preserves to have a minimum of 100 acres with fences at least 8 feet high. The proposal does not place any limits on how many of the farm-raised deer can be kept in the preserves or how many can be killed by those who pay to hunt in them.
Senators defeated a bill last spring that would have authorized only the four preserves then in operation, but three more have since opened in Whitley, Miami and Decatur counties, according to the Indiana Board of Animal Health.
The preserves have operated without oversight since the state appeals court ruled last February that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources exceeded its authority when it tried in 2005 to force the closure of the Whitetail Bluff preserve in southern Indiana's Harrison County.
Opponents told the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Monday that they disagreed with treating the deer as privately owned livestock while allowing them to be hunted, which isn't allowed for other livestock, The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1laZehT ).
"This is not hunting. This is shooting livestock," hunter Joel Wieneke said. "Call it what it is. The statute makes them livestock. Don't call it hunting. This is target practice."
Senators in support, though, sharply questioned some of the opponents about whether they support hunting in general and the opportunity the preserves offer those who can't find other places to hunt.
The committee voted 8-1 to endorse the bill that is now headed to the full Senate. It gives oversight of the preserves to the Board of Animal Health rather than the Department of Natural Resources, the agency that regulates the hunting of wild animals.
A separate bill approved unanimously by the committee would restore the DNR's authority to issue permits for people to own wild animals such as tigers, bears and venomous snakes.
The agency stopped regulating their ownership after the appeals court ruling on the deer-hunting preserves said it didn't have the authority to manage such legally owned animals.
"Every hour we don't get something in place is an hour we end up with more problems," said bill sponsor Sen. Mike Crider, a Republican from Greenfield.
Many animals in the meantime have been covered under a federal U.S. Department of Agriculture permit, but not all of them.
For instance, the federal permit covers only mammals. But the state permit covered venomous snakes or alligators and crocodiles over 5 feet long. Also, a federal license is only required if the person is exhibiting, breeding or selling the animals.