Yellowstone bison hunting lawsuit should be dismissed, federal attorneys argue

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A Gardiner-area woman’s lawsuit against the federal government over bison hunting near her home should be dismissed because she waited too long to file and because she is suing in another court citing the same facts.

Federal attorneys made the arguments in a motion to dismiss, which was filed last week in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

In the lawsuit, Bonnie Lynn is seeking $500,000 in compensation for loss of revenue to her cabin rental business. At the heart of her case is the issue of bison hunting on nearby Forest Service property at Beattie Gulch. Beattie Gulch is just north of Yellowstone National Park on the west side of the Yellowstone River. The location provides one of the first places for state and tribal hunters to kill the animals when they migrate out of the park in winter.

The carcasses and gut piles left by hunters are sometimes moved onto adjoining property by predators, scavengers and birds, which Lynn has argued is a taking of her property rights without compensation. The hunt and resulting carrion has resulted in a loss of revenue for her cabin rental and RV park businesses, Lynn’s attorneys have claimed.

The Forest Service has responded to area landowners’ complaints by not allowing hunting or shooting near the county road — Old Yellowstone Trail — that provides access to Beattie Gulch and Lynn’s property. Yet nearby homeowners and conservationists in the area have contended that hasn’t been enough.

Bison hunting outside of the park is regulated by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, but tribes with treaty rights kill the majority of the bison and they aren’t governed by the agency.

The hunts are one tool the state and cooperating federal and tribal partners are using to try to reduce the number of bison in Yellowstone as part of an agreement between the state and park officials.

Lynn’s attorneys have claimed that the Forest Service could stop the hunt at its Beattie Gulch property. Instead, the agency “has created a concentrated, unsafe, and unethical hunt every winter” and because of the hunts “bison guts physically occupy her land, taking her land for a public use.”

Attorneys for the United States argue that Lynn waited too long to file the suit, and that she was aware that the hunts were occurring prior to when she bought the property in 2005.

Lynn, however, claims that the hunts have increased in intensity since she bought the land and buildings as more tribes have asserted treaty rights to kill Yellowstone’s bison. Hunting is not allowed inside Yellowstone National Park.

The U.S. attorneys go on to contend that Lynn’s lawsuit does “not identify a specific government action that gave rise to an alleged taking.”

“(Lynn’s) claim of a temporary physical taking by the United States rests on an attenuated chain of events involving (1) the state of Montana, which permits and regulates the public bison hunt, and Indian tribes, who regulate their tribal rights to hunt; (2) private hunters and tribal hunters; and (3) wild raptors and ravens,” attorneys noted in their brief. “None of these actions can be attributed to the United States.”

The brief goes on to say, “The question that must be answered in analyzing (Lynn’s) claims is whether the raptors and ravens are instrumentalities of the United States. The short answer is no.”

In December a U.S. District Court judge denied Lynn’s request to halt the bison hunt this winter, in part citing the importance of the hunts to participating tribes.

Lynn is being represented by Jared Pettinato and Matthew Thurlow. Pettinato is a former Montana U.S. House candidate.

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