By Katie Stancombe
INDIANAPOLIS — A House committee could vote on a bill next week that would allow fenced deer hunting preserves to be officially legalized and regulated in Indiana.
Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, speaks before the Natural Resources Committee Monday morning about legislation involving fenced hunting in Indiana. Photo by Chris Arnold, TheStatehouseFile.com.
After a 10-year battle between the preserves and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, House Bill 1453 would eliminate the limbo in which the preserves currently operate. As of now, there is no specific language in state law that addresses deer hunting preserve operations.
As a result of a study committee’s recommendations this past summer, author Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, created the bill, saying that it’s time for the General Assembly to make a decision.
“We’re at a point where, we, as the General Assembly need to decide if it’s gonna be us who sets forth the policy of hunting reserves, or do we want the courts to decide,” Eberhart said. “We as the policy makers of Indiana should be the ones to decide.”
Attorney General Greg Zoeller represents the state in the case and has previously encouraged the legislature to provide additional public-policy clarity on this statute. Eberhart told committee members that “this is our opportunity to come up with some rules and regulations that they can abide by.”
The fenced preserves are controversial among hunting groups and citizens alike, many of which consider them to be unethical.
Jack Corpuz, an Indiana hunter, said that the idea of fenced hunting is “repulsive to the average hunter.”
“To keep four, 10, 15 businesses going in the state of Indiana and say that it’s not repulsive is childish. It’s just turning your head away from the issue,” Corpis said. “The issue today has got to be: ‘How do we treat our livestock?’ ‘How do we treat our wild animals?’”
State officials say that farm-raised deer should not be allowed to mix with wild deer, in part to prevent the spread of diseases, including tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease. The latter is a neurological disorder that damages neurons, forming holes in the brain tissue of deer and eventually leading to death.
CWD can only be confirmed post-mortem, as there are no current tests available to sample brain tissue from a live deer. The disease is suspected to be transferred through a deer’s saliva, urine and excrement and can survive for long periods of time in soil particles.
But some supporters of the bill say the operations have nothing to do with CWD.
Gary Jacobson, a representative of the Indiana Deer and Elk Farmers Association, urged the committee to support the bill.
“It’s hard for me to gather that putting a fence around a deer creates spontaneous generation of CWD,” Jacobson said.
He also said the only way to know if Indiana deer might have CWD is by testing them in a preserve or on a farm, which is where cases are normally found.
“With 100 percent of them being tested on those farms and in the preserves, statistical myolysis is gonna tell you that’s where it’s going to be found because it’s not being tested in the wild,” Jacobson said.
Darrell Raglin, a deer veterinarian and Purdue University employee, firmly stated that some previous testimonies discussing the problems within deer farms were “outright untrue.”
“My job as a veterinarian as far as this discussion is concerned is to make sure that the deer that are on these farms and the deer that eventually make their way to these hunting preserves are deer that are healthy and do not impose risk to the public health,” said Raglin.
“Someone has to show me where, an animal is maintained behind a fence — is a threat to any wild animal,” said Raglin. “I don’t think the connection has been made there. If CWD is such a threat, then where is it? I can tell you where it’s not — it’s not on deer farms.”
The committee will wait until next week to vote on the bill.
Katie Stancombe is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
Correction: This story has been corrected from its original version. The story now more accurately reflects Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s role in the case and correctly spells the name of hunter Jack Corpuz. TheStatehouseFile.com regrets the error.