Climate Of Fear Now Rules Inside the Indiana DNR

"Our Man Mitch" Wants Only Pro-Business Employees

When I started calling various Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources employees last week about firings, demotions and reassignments within the massive state agency, I heard some of the most curious requests I have heard in 32 years of covering the DNR.

"I'm sorry, I can't hear you. We must have a bad connection," said one.

"Call me back after work, at home," said another.

"Can we meet in a parking garage or somewhere like that? Don't call me here anymore," said yet another DNR staffer. "It has never been like this before."

One DNR employee said: "Communication is not flowing now. Everyone is scared. There is a real climate of fear within the agency."

That "climate of fear" is born out of the firings, demotions and reassignments of over a dozen DNR employees since Gov. Mitch Daniels named Kyle Hupfer as director of the agency last winter.

Shortly after taking office, "Our Man Mitch" sent an email to DNR employees that said: "If you aren't pro-business, then you shouldn't be working here."

Shortly after that email, chiefs of several divisions whose regulatory influence is directly related to big business in Indiana were fired, demoted and reassigned. The divisions affected included oil and gas, land acquisition, regulatory enforcement, forestry, law enforcement and fish and wildlife, and the Heritage Land Trust.

Most curious of all, at least to most observers, was the firing of Jeff Wells as Lt. Col. of DNR's Law Enforcement Div. Wells was closely involved with the investigation that eventually bagged game farm operator Russell Bellar. Bellar plead guilty to 35 violations of the federal Lacey Act after being caught red-handed. Wells, who should have reaped praise for his work on the case, instead got booted.

Word is that the new governor and his 32-year-old DNR director think Indiana might be a good place for game farming and canned hunting, following some "public education" on the subject. Stand by for the spin doctors.

Game farming and canned hunting are businesses, after all. Bellar's was enjoying tremendous financial success by allowing clients to shoot drugged, baited and caged animals.

Can a massive state agency charged with being pro-fish, pro-wildlife and pro-conservation be pro-business at the same time? Time will tell, but it looks like the fox is in the hen house to me.

©Copyright. 2005. Jordan Communications.