Panel studies whether to regulate deer preserves

INDIANAPOLIS - It’s a debate that has been underway for years -- whether the state should regulate hunting preserves. A committee of lawmakers heard from people on both sides of the controversial issue Tuesday.

The Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources spent the first few hours of the day hearing from health and wildlife experts about the risk of Chronic Wasting Disease among the state's deer population.

The disease infects white-tailed deer, mule deer and elk. Dr. Bryan Richards of the U.S. Geological Survey said CWD has been found in 22 states, but not Indiana.

"These are progressive, neurological disorders that result in death of the animal," Richards said.

A veterinarian and former chair of Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board said once CWD has been established, the problem could persist for a long time.

"An outbreak of CWD is like a fire. And the bigger the fire is, the more sparks there are spreading out there. So, the more sticks of kindling you can remove out there, that's probably the best we've got at trying to control it," Dr. Dave Clausen said.

The 14-member panel was studying CWD and the risk of the disease spreading into Indiana from importing deer for use in high-fenced shooting preserves.

There are four hunting preserves in the state. Rodney Bruce owns one in Corydon.

"We test 100 percent of the animals. Whereas in the wild, less than 1 percent is tested. And I'm testing 100 percent. So what common sense kind of tells you is there really is an issue here if the state is testing less than 1 percent. Are they really concerned or are they using this as a tool to beat us up," Bruce said.

Indiana requires owners to test all carcasses. The state bars owners from importing deer from other states where an animal has tested positive for CWD in the last 5 years.

"To even masquerade this as hunting is ridiculous. These animals are bred in captivity, they're raised around humans, they're brought to these facilities to be hunted for trophy and there's nothing fair about it," said Erin Huang, state director for the Humane Society of the U.S.

The committee plans to meet again before making recommendations for possible changes to state law.

In the meantime, a court battle over the issue was ongoing. The Department of Natural Resources took its case to the Indiana Court of Appeals after a judge ruled the agency couldn’t regulate or shut down hunting preserves.

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