Today's newspaper column

Pence is to blame for the DNR losing its way


When the Indiana Department of Natural Resources recently testified in favor of a bill that would strip them of the authority to oversee the management of captive deer, it signaled a change of heart. For the first time, the people in charge of protecting the resource cleared the way for high fenced hunting — something they and hunters statewide had always opposed.

That testimony was only the latest misstep by the DNR and was a sign of a larger cancer in the department. At some point in the past three years, The DNR became nothing more than a tool for the political whims of Governor Pence and a few all-knowing legislators who want to micro manage our natural resources with nothing more than their own personal agenda in mind.

There are several disturbing examples of the meddling by the Governor and the minion-like response by Cameron Clark, DNR Director.

After Clark testified to also stop a bipartisan bill to preserve only 10 percent of Indiana’s public forests from private logging, the Indiana Forest Alliance recently found out what the rest of us had already figured out.

“We are appalled by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ claim to the Senate that the reason not to enact this reasonable measure of conservation is that it would cost the state more than $400,000 a year in lost timber value. With this, the DNR admits that logging is a priority above all else,” said Jeff Stant, IFA Executive Director.

Over the past decade, the Division of Forestry has gone from setting aside 40 percent of Indiana’s 150,000 acres of public forest to a current level of only 5 percent.

While some logging is good for the resource, the decision to log nearly all of it is borne of greed, not biology or conservation.

That theme is apparent in other places as well when it comes to Pence and Clark.

The DNR’s support of high-powered rifles for Indiana deer hunting is only the latest exploitation of deer and deer hunting in an effort to sell more tags and in no way reflects what is the best, biological choice to maintain a sustainable deer herd.

But the DNR can’t possibly know what a deer biologist thinks about deer seasons, since under Clark and Pence we have not had a deer biologist or even their assistant since before deer season.

In fact, Indiana was the only state I could find that does not have a deer biologist where whitetail deer reside.

By not hiring a deer biologist, Pence and Clark can manage deer and deer hunting from a purely political perspective, with politicians calling the shots and creating natural resource strategy.

But perhaps the most shocking abuse of power and evidence the DNR and Pence have lost their way lies in their tragic handling of the Indiana Dunes State Park and the deals that have taken place under the table to commercially develop the fragile ecosystem.

Despite the local liquor board denying the Pavilion Partners a liquor license, the opposition of every local conservation group and 10,000 signed petitions to stop the development, the DNR supports a bill that would bypass the locals and give the DNR the right to serve liquor.

That would allow Pavilion Partners to go forward with their lakefront banquet facility, restaurants and conference center.

Who are the Pavilion Partners?

The Northwest Indiana Times reports a Valparaiso businessman heads them, but that the DNR, has a “public/private relationship” with them as well. Dan Bortner has spoken on behalf of the DNR and is the DNR’s director of state parks.

Anyone see a conflict of interest here?

There is more. The Pavilion Partners evidently started talks with the DNR under the Governor Daniels administration, who’s DNR Director was Kyle Hupfer.

Hupfer left the DNR after two years as an attorney and is now representing the Pavilion Partners in their quest to develop the lakefront commercially.

In any private sector corporation these relationships would be investigated and people would be fired, but under Pence, it is business as usual.

What is most disturbing about the current DNR’s vision of their mission is that while Pence and Clark spend all their time trying to develop the state park, they have given no plan to create habitat in the dunes, help the 70 endangered species there or even build a fishing pier.

The things most of us think any Department of Natural Resources ought to be focused on.

There are historically two types of DNR directors in Indiana. Those who take the job because they love the natural resources and those who are minions of a misguided governor and only want to further their career with the position.

We have been cursed with the latter for nearly 12 years, but Pence and Clark get my vote as the worst of the lot.

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Dad and I fishing the old-fashioned way.