Hunter groups, advocates keep up opposition to legalizing fenced-in Indiana deer preserves

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INDIANAPOLIS — Several hunter and wildlife advocacy groups expressed opposition Monday to a proposal that would legalize high-fenced deer-hunting preserves around Indiana.

The House Natural Resources Committee heard a couple hours of testimony on a bill that would have the state Department of Natural Resources license the preserves where farm-raised deer could be hunted.

A handful of such preserves have operated without state approval for several years, with courts disagreeing on whether the Department of Natural Resources could force their closure. Attempts in recent legislative sessions to legalize them have failed to win approval.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, would require preserves to cover at least 100 acres and have fences at least 8 feet high.

Gary Jacobson of the Indiana Deer and Elk Farmers Association supported legalizing the hunting preserves, saying it was a step that would help Indiana's nearly 400 deer farms have buyers for their animals.

Those farms are small business that are able to operate on a smaller scale than is needed nowadays for raising livestock such as hogs, cattle or chickens, he said.

"Consumers are telling the small businesses what they want and the small businesses are addressing that," Jacobson said.

Opponents — including the Indiana Deer Hunters Association, the Indiana Wildlife Federation, the Hoosier Environmental Council and the state chapter of the Humane Society — called the preserves "canned hunting" and said they increase the risk of spreading the fatal chronic wasting disease to the state's wild deer.

Doug Allman of Indiana Deer Hunters Association said the farm-raised deer in the preserves are used to being around people and that the preserves didn't offer true hunting.

"You're simply farm raising an animal and then they're put in these facilities and guys pay big bucks to shoot them," Allman said. "They're just shooting them for the antlers."

Preserve and deer farm operators disputed that their animals pose any greater risk for diseases spreading to Indiana's wild herds.

Eberhart, who is chairman of the House committee, said he would consider possible changes to his proposal in the coming days and that the committee wouldn't vote on the bill until at least next week.

Eberhart said the preserves have operated without any state regulations and that he was trying to establish reasonable rules for license fees, acreage, fencing, inspections and record keeping.

"This is our chance to set forth what we think are good rules for them to live by, he said.

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