Lawmakers seek rules to allow fenced-in hunting, plan to spend 2015 session on proposal



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INDIANAPOLIS — A panel tasked with investigating fenced-in deer hunting cleared the way Tuesday for the General Assembly to craft new rules on the practice in the upcoming session.

In a nonbinding 8-3 vote that could provide a nudge for supporters of the divisive proposal, the Agriculture and Natural Resources study committee recommended that the full Legislature take up the question. The measure likely will face many of the same concerns that derailed previous efforts to allow fenced-in, or "canned," deer hunting.

The hunting operations feature wide tracts of land, enclosed by fences, with specially bred deer shipped in for hunts. Critics say that killing a deer in a fenced-in facility cannot be called true hunting, and wildlife officials have expressed broad concern that the specially-bred deer can spread chronic wasting disease to other deer in the state.

Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, said she was expecting fenced-in hunting to be more controlled than what she saw this summer.

"I just found it interesting because it was totally different from what I had in mind," she said.

Fenced-in hunting has become increasingly popular and contentious in the state. A Harrison County judge determined last year that the state Department of Natural Resources overstepped its bounds when it tried to shut down one fenced-in operation.

Efforts to allow the practice have narrowly died in recent meetings of the General Assembly.

Wildlife officials have expressed concern that the operations can spread chronic wasting disease to the state's wild deer. Officials and scientists who testified at the panel's August hearing on the topic, noted that chronic wasting disease is a neurological illness similar to mad cow disease and almost impossible to diagnose until after a deer has died from it.

An investigation by The Indianapolis Star found that deer shipped from other states and raised in Indiana deer farms had tested positive for the disease and, in one case, allegedly transmitted the disease to cattle.

Supporters of fenced-in hunting, including industry officials, say they have safeguards in place to protect against the spread of the disease.

An effort to legalize five regulated fenced-in preserves in Indiana died in 2013 amid opposition from Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, who said the practice could not be called hunting. A similar measure fell one vote short of passing the Senate earlier this year.

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