“Operation Foxote” brings chase pen busts in three states

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2007:
two-year investigation of “chase pen” hunting businesses called
“Operation Foxote” culminated on November 11, 2007 with arrests in
three states.
The Alabama’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division,
which initiated Operation Foxote, arrested 18 people and seized 55
foxes, 25 coyotes, two bobcats, and 33 cardinals who were
apparently used as bait to catch foxes and coyotes. The
investigators also found and seized a moonshine still.
All of the confiscated animals were killed “because they
posed a health risk for native species and their survival chances
were slim,” Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
chief of enforcement Allan Andress told Birmingham News staff writer
Mike Bolton.

Suspects from Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, and
Wisconsin face jail time and fines of up to $225,000, Andress told
Jay Reeves of Associated Press. “Andress said all 18 suspects either
trapped, transported, bought or sold a prohibited animal,” wrote
“We didn’t arrest any of the patrons,” Andress said.
“More arrests are forthcoming in Alabama and at least six
other states,” Mike Bolton reported on November 18.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources Conservation
charged Earl Hunt, 66, of Kennard, with multiple counts of
illegally shipping wildlife–specifically coyotes used in chase pens,
in which individual captive animals are pursued by packs of dogs.
The purpose of the pursuit is nominally to train hunting dogs
to hunt in open countryside, as in British-style fox hunting, and
the captive coyotes or foxes are required by regulation to have means
of escape.
However, chase pens may be more numerous than clubs of
people who ride after hunting hounds, and humane investigators have
warned for at least 20 years that watching dogs chase and kill penned
coyotes and foxes had become a spectator activity of only tenuous
connection to traditional hunting practices.
The Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries on
November 11, 2007 conducted simultaneous surprise inspections of all
41 licensed “training preserves” in the state, as chase pens are
officially known. Initial reports said 36 chase pens were closed
due to alleged permit violations, but Virginia Department of Game &
Inland Fisheries chief of law enforcement Mike Bise later lowered the
number to 31.
“Some of the violations appear to involve only minor and
inadvertent lapses in record-keeping,” reported Washington Post
staff writer Frederick Kunkle, “but others could result in state or
federal criminal charges against the operators, Bise said. He would
not identify the operations whose permits were suspended.”
Said Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries chair
James W. Hazel in a prepared statement, “After being briefed on this
case, I am deeply concerned about what may be going on inside some
of these sites.”
Indiana conservation officer John Salb told Associated Press
that chase pen hunting could best be described as “prolonged agony”
for the victim animals.
Wrote Kunkle, “Allan Andress, chief of law enforcement for
the Alabama Wildlife and Fisheries Division, echoed concerns that
the larger operations were violating regulations about conducting
field trials so that the animals sometimes died, thereby creating a
market that paid as much as $100 per live fox. Andress said some
operations may have been earning ‘over six figures’ a year by
charging as much as $25 per dog or allowing too many dogs in the
preserve at once.”
Virginia chase pen owner William Goodman, 57, claiming to
have been in the business for 35 years, told Kunkle that “Some
English-style foxhunting clubs from Virginia’s horse country have
trained their foxhounds at his facility, but most of his clientele
are local hunters who haul their foxhounds into the woods in the back
of a pickup and follow the chase on foot.”
Masters of Foxhounds Association of North America executive
director Dennis Foster rushed to disassociate English-style
foxhunting from the chase pen raids.
“We chase wild foxes on horseback,” Foster told Scott Harper
and Linda McNatt of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. “Ninety percent of
our hunts don’t use fox pens. Night hunters just let the dogs loose
and let them run.”
Chase pen hunts are”not a typical fox hunt,” Andress agreed.
“In the wild,” Andress told Bolton of the Birmingham News, “the fox
knows where the cover is. He’ll be underground before the dogs get
close. It’s not quite that way in these hunts. A fresh fox or
coyote put into a pen doesn’t know where the cover is. The usual
result is that the animal gets caught and killed. That’s why there
is a constant need for fresh animals. It drives an illegal market to
replenish the stock.”
Among the hints that Operation Foxote may produce more
arrests and pen closures were that ilegally obtained coyotes
reportedly came from Missouri as well as the states where arrests
were made, and agents from Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and
South Carolina also participated in the investigation.
Charged in Alabama with 45 counts of illegal animal
trafficking, alleged chase pen animal supplier Harold Widder of
Antigo, Wisconsin told Reeves of Associated Press that “I just made
a wrong turn and wound up in the wrong state.”
Noted Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle,
“The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has proposed a rule that
would require trappers to kill coyotes within 24 hours of taking
them,” but “during trapping season only,” leaving trappers free to
sell “nuisiance” coyotes trapped at other times of year.
“The Indiana DNR and the state legislature need to take
action to stop this practice year-round. All states should close
their borders to this trade,” Pacelle said, hinting at a possible
follow-up to the campaign that earlier in 2007 elevated transporting
dogs and gamecocks across state lines to a federal felony.

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