Supreme Court Lets Stand Free-Roaming Bison Plan

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — The Montana Supreme Court has let stand the state’s decision to allow migrating bison to roam across 70,000 acres of land outside Yellowstone National Park.

The high court said Tuesday it would not rule in the case because Park County had raised a different issue on appeal than it did in its initial petition in District Court.

The county’s petition argued that the wandering bison were a public nuisance. A separate petition by the Park County Stockgrowers Association and the Montana Farm Bureau Federation contended the expansion violated a 2011 law that prohibited state wildlife officials from releasing wild bison on private or public land without the owner’s permission.

District Judge E. Wayne Phillips ruled against both arguments in January 2013. He said interactions with wild animals were an unavoidable consequence of living in Montana and the new law did not apply to bison migrating out of the park.

Park County and the Farm Bureau appealed Phillips’ interpretation of the 2011 law, but the Farm Bureau dropped out of the lawsuit, saying it had been assured its concerns would be addressed by state management of the animals.

Justice Beth Baker wrote that Park County had no standing to appeal an issue it did not raise in its original arguments.

Park County Attorney Brett Linneweber had argued that because the county’s original case was consolidated with the Farm Bureau and Park County Stockgrowers Association, it had adopted their contentions. However, the issue over the new law was contained in an amended complaint that Park County did not join.

“Consolidation does not permit Park County to appeal an issue raised in a separate case by another party,” Baker wrote in the 5-0 opinion.

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