Humane Society ‘disappointed’ justices won’t hear canned-hunt suit

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A deadlocked Indiana Supreme Court declined to hear the state’s appeal of a ruling allowing captive-hunting preserves to operate in the state without regulation. The Humane Society condemned the decision on the controversial hunting practice.

Justices split 2-2 Friday on whether to grant transfer in Ind. Dept. of Natural Resources, and Cameron F. Clark as Dir. of the Ind. Dept. of Natural Resources v. Whitetail Bluff, LLC, Rodney Bruce, et al., 31A04-1310-PL-502. The Court of Appeals ruled in February that state law doesn’t prohibit hunting deer and other game in high-fenced enclosures nor does it allow the Department of Natural Resources to regulate the practice.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Brent Dickson voted to hear the state’s appeal, and Justices Steven David and Robert Rucker voted against granting transfer. Justice Mark Massa did not participate. Massa was counsel to Gov. Mitch Daniels and was involved in discussions of the controversy when it arose, court spokeswoman Sarah Kidwell said.

The Indiana Humane Society issued a statement saying it was disappointed in the decision that effectively sanctions hunting of deer and other game in enclosed areas.

“The lower court’s decision contains dangerous ramifications for wildlife all throughout the state. Captive hunting facilities lack any element of fair chase and create breeding grounds for disease, such as chronic wasting disease. These facilities don’t line up with Hoosiers’ values, and we believe that this decision clears the stage for the Legislature to take swift and strong action to ban captive hunting ranches in Indiana,” Humane Society state director Erin Huang said in a statement.

The Court of Appeals’ split decision in the case came after the DNR in 2005 passed an emergency rule effectively banning captive hunting. The appeals panel majority affirmed a Harrison County court ruling in favor of Whitetail Bluff LLC and other plaintiffs.

The majority in the COA ruling held that DNR lacked rulemaking authority to ban high-fence hunting, and that outlawing the practice would require further intervention from lawmakers.

House Bill 1453 that would have legalized captive hunting passed the House, but it was narrowly defeated in the Senate in the most recent legislative session.

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