During the 2016 session, the Indiana General Assembly needs to address the reality that wild animals and people are not as safe or secure as they once were in Indiana.

As outlined in stories by reporter Carol Kugler in today’s newspaper, that’s because of an appeals court ruling earlier this year that determined the Indiana Department of Natural Resources does not have the authority to protect and manage wild animals “that are legally owned or being held in captivity under a license or permit” in the state.

That means poisonous snakes, lions and other large cats, bears and a variety of other animals the DNR used to be able to monitor are now under no state regulation. Simply put, no state agency is responsible for making sure wild animals in the possession of an individual are properly cared for and contained so that they can’t escape. Fairly strict containment rules previously in place are no longer valid.

State officials also are rightly concerned about somewhat less dangerous animals, such as raccoons and foxes, that could easily contract and spread rabies.

All this happened as a consequence of a court decision that upheld a practice in Indiana that’s troubling in its own right: fenced hunting. The Indiana Court of Appeals decided the DNR couldn’t step in to regulate places that allow that practice, in which hunters go after deer that a landowner or business has essentially trapped behind high fences.

A lot of Indiana hunters oppose the concept of fenced hunting, based on concerns about the spread of disease and the belief it is inherently unethical. Because of property rights issues, don’t look for the General Assembly to ban the practice any time soon.

But it certainly needs to address the court ruling that ties the hands of the state in dealing with all sorts of wildlife issues, including the ones mentioned in the beginning of this editorial. State Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, plans to do so by filing a bill that would restore some state control over a range of wild animals, including the most dangerous ones. His bill won’t address high-fence hunting.

Joe Taft is well known in these parts as founder and director of the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point. With his experience caring for large cats, he’s well equipped to weigh in on this issue, and he wants regulations to return.

“Indiana is one of the places that has always had good and responsive regulations within the state,” Taft told Kugler. “The way things are right now, anybody can have anything, without regulatory oversight and without any regulatory awareness.”

That’s bad for the animals and potentially very dangerous for people as well. The Legislature must see that Indiana does better than that.

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