Indiana DNR Gets Cagey on Coyote and Fox Penning

In Indiana, one must have a permit to possess wildlife outside of hunting season. Apparently, though, "possess" is a very flexible word. According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), plucking wild animals out of their homes in the wild and transporting them to a fenced enclosure doesn’t count as possession, so long as there are accidental holes in the fence.

This past May, AWI , Project Coyote, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against the DNR and its director Robert Carter, after the department waived state permit requirements for a coyote and fox penning facility near the town of Linton, in southwestern Indiana. As noted in the Spring 2010 AWI Quarterly, "penning" involves setting packs of dogs loose to chase wild coyotes and foxes within enclosed areas. Supporters of the practice claim they are just training their dogs; they don't intend to kill the coyotes and foxes. Yet eyewitness accounts and undercover investigations by government officials indicate that often the dogs are not called off once they corner the wild canids, but rather tear into them and maul them to death.

When animal welfare advocates pointed out that the Linton facility lacked the mandatory permit to possess wildlife, the DNR made the rather dubious assertion that coyotes and foxes trapped in the facility’s enclosures are not technically "possessed" because there are small, unintentional perforations in the poorly-maintained wire fences. The lawsuit alleges that the DNR's interpretation of the law would allow anyone in the state to skirt the wildlife possession permit requirement simply by failing to keep up with repairs.

The DNR's eagerness to bend rules to accommodate penning is strongly at odds with the wishes of the Indiana citizenry, it would seem. A recent Mason-Dixon poll found that Indiana voters favor a bill prohibiting penning by a margin of 85 to 9 percent. It also runs counter to the DNR's previous stance on the issue. Last year the department actually recommended a prohibition on coyote and fox penning to the Indiana Natural Resources Commission (NRC) - the 12-member board that addresses issues pertaining to the DNR. According to the minutes of a 2007 NRC meeting, DNR director Carter reported on a multistate investigation regarding illegal fox and coyote trade associated with penning. "Most of the time (the coyote) is killed," he said.

At a November 2010 NRC meeting, the board preliminarily voted to approve rules that would authorize the continued operation of existing pens and allow new pens to be established until a proposed January 1, 2012 moratorium. Late pressure from the National Rifle Association (even as some hunters spoke out against penning) is believed to be behind this acquiescence to a practice most Hoosiers find repugnant. As of this printing, the NRC has yet to approve final rules, and the lawsuit is still pending.