INDIANAPOLIS — A proposal to legalize Indiana's high-fenced deer-hunting preserves was approved by a Senate panel Monday after lawmakers made several changes to address ethical concerns and provide protection against the spread of disease.
The Senate Natural Resources Committee voted 6-3 to advance a measure that would set up a licensing and inspection process for Indiana's four current preserves where farm-raised deer are hunted.
The preserves currently aren't regulated in Indiana and the state appeals court has ruled the Department of Natural Resources overstepped its authority in trying to shut them down.
The Indianapolis Star reports (http://indy.st/1DmaUXa ) that changes to the bill require deer to be farm-raised in Indiana. Preserves must be 125 acres and have a 10-foot-tall fence. Preserves owners are also forbidden from selling a deer for a hunt within 24 hours of it being sedated.
"I think this bill does a really nice job addressing those concerns," bill sponsor Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, said during Monday's hearing.
But opponents that include wildlife advocates, animal-rights activists, environmentalists and hunter associations say high-fence hunting should be illegal in Indiana. Critics testified that the bill opens the door for "canned hunting," which has been banned or restricted in 20 states, including Minnesota, Mississippi and Montana.
Jeff Wells, president of the Indiana Conservation Officer Organization, said the measure's language is vague, making the bill unenforceable.
"This doesn't regulate the practice," Wells said to committee members. "It deregulates the practice."
The measure also includes a provision that says if state officials must kill a deer in the event of a disease outbreak, taxpayers won't be responsible to pay for a preserve owner's loss.
The Star reported that an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis in 2009 at three Indiana deer farms and a hunting preserve cost taxpayers more than $1 million, much of which came from federal reimbursements for slaughtered animals.
The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration, where similar legislation last year failed to pass by one vote.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com
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