Ranchers And Native Americans Battle At US Supreme Court Over Hunting Rights

Tim Pearce | Energy Reporter
  • Crow tribal member Clayvin Herrera was found guilty in 2016 of hunting elk in Bighorn National Forest without a license.
  • Herrera sued Wyoming, claiming an 1868 treaty gives the Crow tribe the right to hunt on “unoccupied” federal land.
  • Herrera’s case will be decided on two questions: whether Wyoming’s statehood in 1890 “occupied” the land, and whether a national forest qualifies as “unoccupied” land.

A coalition of agricultural interests is backing the state of Wyoming in a Supreme Court Case over the hunting rights of Crow tribal members from a 150-year-old treaty.

Eight agricultural groups filed a motion in support of Wyoming on Tuesday for arresting a tribal member, Clayvin Herrera, after he and several other Native Americans killed elk in Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest in 2014. Herrera sued the state, claiming a right to hunt on “unoccupied” federal land secured in a 19th century treaty between the U.S. and the tribe. (RELATED: The Crow Tribe Wants To Hunt Yellowstone Bison But Needs Montana’s Approval)

“We are not seeking to overturn the hunting rights the Crow Tribe reserved in their treaty with the United States,” Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) attorney Cody Wisniewski said in a statement. “Quite the contrary, we are just asking the Court to treat the right as the both the tribe and United States understood it in 1868.”

MSLF is representing the agricultural groups Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, Wyoming Wool Growers Association, Montana Farm Bureau Federation, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, Utah Farm Bureau Federation, Colorado Farm Bureau Federation and South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association.

Herrera’s case against Wyoming rests on the meaning of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty that set up the Crow reservation. The treaty guarantees that Crow tribal members “shall have the right to hunt on the unoccupied lands of the United States so long as game may be found thereon, and as long as peace subsists among the whites and Indians on the borders of the hunting districts,” the treaty says, according to court documents.

The case raises two questions about the Crow Tribe’s right to hunt outside the reservation: whether Wyoming’s 1890 statehood nullified the treaty by making all land inside it “occupied,” and whether a national park can be considered “unoccupied” federal land under the meaning of the treaty.

The U.S. solicitor general Noel Francisco sided with Herrera against Wyoming when recommending the Supreme Court take up the case in May, according to the solicitor general’s filing.

Powwow at Crow Agency is pictured in Montana, U.S., June 23, 2017. REUTERS/Valerie Volcovici

Powwow at Crow Agency is pictured in Montana, U.S., June 23, 2017. REUTERS/Valerie Volcovici

Herrera, a tribal game warden at the time, went elk hunting in January 2014. Him and others began tracking a herd of elk on the Crow reservation in southern Montana and followed the animals after they crossed the state line, entering Wyoming and Bighorn National Forest. The hunting party then killed three elk and brought the carcasses back to the Crow reservation, according to court documents.

Wyoming authorities later cited Herrera killing antlered big game without a license and for being an accessory to the same crime.

Herrera was convicted in 2016 and ordered to pay an $8,080 and has had hunting privileges suspended for three years. Herrera also received a suspended jail sentence, Montana Untamed reports.

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