Posted: Apr 12, 2013 9:42 PM by Dennis Bragg - MTN News
MISSOULA - Montana's Supreme Court justices are told the state acted within the law when it transferred wild bison to an Eastern Montana reservation last year. But a group of farmers and ranchers disputes that claim, asking the high court to leave a ban on moving the bison between the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations.
Those arguments came to Missoula this morning.
When 60-bison were moved from the holding area in Corwin Springs to the Fort Peck Reservation last March it set off an immediate flurry of lawsuits. A Blaine County judge would eventually block the state from not only moving more bison, but even the transfer of bison to Fort Belknap. "This case, the lawyers should have looked at all the federal laws before they even filed this case. The federal laws does not allow this case to go on." said Jimmy Stgoddard, spiritual leader of the Blackfoot Confederacy.
But Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and along with Defenders of Wildlife and the other appellants argue this case is not really about jurisdiction, but a question of whether the agencies and the tribes followed the rules for making the transfer.
Chief legal counsel representative Rebecca Dockter says, "Rather what this case is about is that the states and the tribe have worked together cooperatively through an agreement to place a significant species, a culturally significant species upon tribal lands within Indian Country."
"There is just no indication that the Legislature thought about provided for, or ultimately intend for, this statute to reach within the boundaries of a reservation." Said Earthjustice Attorney Timothy Preso
Citizens for Balanced Use argue the case is one of jurisdiction, complaining FWP wasn't authorized to manage the transfer. Attorneys told the justices the Department of Livestock is the agency responsible for moving bison and protecting "public and private property" from disease and damage.
"I don't think you could objectively read this environmental assessment without an understanding that these bison will eventually escape and end up on the public and private lands surrounding the reservation properties." said Chad Adams of the Citizens for Balanced Use.
Although the tribes weren't "joined", or involved, in this Blaine County case because of "sovereign immunity", a key legal point rests on where that management authority begins and ends, and who's responsible for the bison once they're on the reservation.
The court should issue a written opinion in the next few weeks. The Supreme Court opted to hear the case during one of its road trips to the University of Montana law school.