|Wed, Apr 23, 2014 05:15 AM
February 12, 2014 | 08:46 AM
A measure to legalize and regulate high-fenced hunting preserves, such as the Hero Reward facility in western Harrison County, failed in the Senate last week when it didn't receive enough votes to be either defeated or approved.
It fell one vote shy of approval.
Senate Bill 404, authored by Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, would provide a regulatory framework for an industry that has been working without one for the better part of a decade.
While the case is in court, these preserves are allowed to host hunts in any manner they choose.
"If we don't pass this bill, deer will be hunted in ways that we can't control," Yoder told the Senate.
Hero Reward, owned and operated by Rodney Bruce, continues to operate in the county because of court rulings.
In 2005, the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources was sued after it tried to shut down the 12 high-fence preserves (only four are now in operation) in the state. Former Judge H. Lloyd (Tad) Whitis issued a moratorium so the existing preserves were allowed to stay in business.
And just last fall, Harrison Circuit Court Judge John T. Evans ruled that the DNR had overstepped its authority and deer behind fences are in essence livestock and not subject to the DNR's oversight.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office is appealing that ruling since it would effectively eliminate the agency's authority to regulate any type of hunting behind a fence.
A few months before Evans' ruling, an Owen County judge ruled that the DNR had the right to issue permits for the preserves.
Similar legislation was blocked last year in the Senate after overwhelmingly passing the House.
Hero Reward is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit program designed to provide U.S. servicemen and women, police officers and firefighters a one-of-a-kind retreat to aid in both mental and physical recovery from traumatizing events. It offers lodging, fishing, hunting, hiking, horseback riding, four-wheeling, skeet shooting and more.
The goal of the program is to offer all of these activities, free of charge, to "heroes" and their families.
Opponents of the legislation say fenced-in hunting is not ethical or should be only allowed for exotic species, not native species such as deer.
Bruce said the fence is only used to control the hunting pressure by keeping people out, controlling how many hunt at a time, the age of the deer that are harvested and the breeding genetics.
"We do not take away a deer's ability to see, hear, smell, run or escape," Bruce said. "If a person uses the fence to make a hunter successful, then it's canned hunting. We don't do that."