A new landowner liability law combined with the DNR's Hunters Helping Farmers program can help landowners experiencing deer damage to crops, forest regeneration or landscaping get deer populations under control on their property.
The DNR has liberalized hunting regulations in most counties to address deer populations by strategically targeting antlerless deer, but effectiveness depends on landowner participation because 94 percent of the state is in private ownership.
In the Hunters Helping Farmers program, each DNR district wildlife biologist maintains a county-by-county list of hunters who are looking for places to hunt and willing to harvest antlerless deer during the hunting seasons. Landowners having difficulty finding hunters for this purpose may contact the DNR district biologist in their area for a copy. Contact information for district biologists is at www.wildlife.IN.gov/2716.htm.
The Indiana General Assembly took steps this year to protect landowners from liability associated with allowing sportsmen and sportswomen to recreate on their land. Indiana Code 34-31-9 was created to limit liability associated with agritourism related activities such as field days, self-pick farmers, corn mazes, animal exhibitions, and agricultural fairs, but also includes natural resource based activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking and trail riding.
The law, which went into effect July 1, states that landowners who provide access to their land for natural resource based activities is not liable for the injury or death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of such activities. Also, a participant or the participant's representative cannot make claim, maintain an action against, or recover from the landowner any loss, damage, or death resulting from the inherent risk of the natural resource based activity.
Inherent risks include conditions, dangers, or hazards that are an integral part of the activity, including surface and subsurface conditions and natural conditions of the land, vegetation and waters, the behavior of wild or domestic animals on the land, the ordinary dangers of structures or equipment on the land, and negligent acts of a participant that may contribute to the injury of that participant or others.
However, the law does not prevent or limit the liability of a landowner who has knowledge of a dangerous condition that exists on the land and does not make the danger known to the participant, who commits and act or omission that constitutes willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant, or who intentionally injures the participant.
The new law also protects landowners who charge a participant a fee for providing natural resources based activities, as long as they provide the participant with a specific warning notice specified by the law. The warning notice can be printed on a sign, posted and maintained in a clearly visible location at the main entrance to the property where the natural resources based activity is to occur, or included as part of a signed release or written contract between the landowner and the participant. The actual language of the new law can be found at www.in.gov/legislative/bills/2011/HE/HE1133.1.html
More information on managing deer damage is at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/2718.htm
The 2011-12 Deer Hunting Guide is at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/6032.htm