District Court Allows State to Enforce Game Farm Laws
HELENA – District Court Judge Russell Fagg on Friday denied a game farm owner’s request to prevent the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks from enforcing a state law that bans the shooting of game farm animals and prevents game farm owners from transferring their licenses.
The new law was created in November 2000, when Montana voters approved Initiative 143.
Charles Taylor, owner of Big Sky Elk Ranch, Inc., had argued that Fish, Wildlife and Parks had interpreted the new law incorrectly and that the court should prevent the prosecution of game farm licensees under that law. Attorney General Mike McGrath’s office had defended the state’s ability to uphold the new game farm law.
Taylor’s case claimed that he was selling an elk only, and not the ability to shoot that elk – if the purchaser then shot the elk on Taylor’s property, he argued that the state could not prosecute him for violating the law that prohibits shooting game farm animals.
Judge Fagg did not rule that the FWP’s interpretation of I-143 was correct or incorrect. While he called the department’s interpretation “reasonable,” the court ruled that, if a game farm was charged with a crime under I-143, those charges should be tried in a court of law based on the specific circumstances of each case.
“It’s clear from Judge Fagg’s ruling that, if a game farms violates the provisions of I-143 in the future, Fish, Wildlife and Parks will be able to enforce the law as it was approved by Montana voters,” McGrath said. “Then it will be up to a jury to decide whether the game farm has broken the law or not.”
Taylor had also argued that he could sell shares in Big Sky Elk Ranch without transferring his game farm license. However, the court’s decision noted that, since there was no pending sale of either the game farm’s license or stock, the court would not “issue an advisory opinion on a hypothetical set of facts.”