Judge revokes permit for Bozeman-area ‘wildlife casting agency’

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Grizzly bears, Griz, right, and Yosemite are seen at Animals of Montana, a captive animal facility near Bozeman, in this 2015 file photo. State authorities are seeking to revoke the site’s menagerie permit citing numerous violations.

A District Court judge has revoked the permit for a Bozeman-area “wildlife casting agency” more than four years after the company was cited for several violations.

Judge Michael McMahon, of Lewis and Clark County, made the ruling against Animals of Montana on Jan. 17. Last year the company lost an administrative hearing before Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks director Martha Williams.

Animals of Montana is owned by Troy Hyde, who could not be reached for comment. A message was also left on his attorney’s answering machine.

The District Court decision will be appealed to the Montana Supreme Court. FWP was also told that Animals of Montana would seek an injunction to stall imposition of the judge’s order until the case could be heard.

“We’re trying to sort through and work with them on this,” said Greg Lemon, FWP spokesman. “If the appeal isn’t granted and there isn’t an injunction we have to figure out what to do with the animals.”

In a 2015 news story, FWP said, “it had been tracking problems at Animals of Montana” since 2001. That’s when an employee’s arm was broken after it was bitten by a brown bear. The agency also claimed that wildlife, including African lions and a black leopard, had escaped and that other human injuries were not reported. As a result of the violations the agency filed a “notice of revocation, imposition of penalties and opportunity for hearing.”

It wasn’t the first time Animals of Montana had received the agency’s attention. In 2012 one of the company’s employees, a 24-year-old trainer, was fatally mauled by a black bear while cleaning a cage. The man’s death was ruled accidental by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office.

Bozeman-area company faces fines in fatal bear mauling

According to the District Court’s order, FWP had initially cited Hyde for 25 violations, 22 of which were validated by a hearing officer. Those violations included “transporting animals outside the facility to a photo shoot for which there was no FWP authorization, using a weed-whacker to scare a tiger into moving, multiple insufficiently secure cages, unroofed cages, multiple failures to padlock cages, insufficient availability of fresh water, and multiple cases of cramped or unsanitary cages.”

Hyde’s attorney, Herman Watson of Bozeman, had argued to the District Court that the FWP order revoking Hyde’s menagerie permit was a threat to his livelihood and business and would also take away animals that he rightfully owned. Watson called FWP’s statutes “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.”

Judge McMahon disagreed, writing that the “statutes and regulations provide extensive guidance as to what roadside menageries are required to and prohibited from doing.” The judge went on to say Watson’s arguments were “inaccurate to the point of being mendacious.” Mendacious means untruthful.

“For most of the violations the law could not be clearer, yet AMI repeatedly failed to follow even the simplest of short, plain language health and safety requirements such as locking cages and providing water and shade,” McMahon wrote.

He also went on to call Watson’s argument about the vagueness of the statutes as “ironically, vague.”

Animals of Montana is home to a grizzly bear, black bears, coyotes, gray wolves, bobcats, lynxes, a Siberian lynx, a badger, red foxes, a pine marten, porcupines, fishers and a black leopard. The court referred to some of those animals as “dangerous predators which present an extreme safety risk.”

“It is laughable to argue that the state has no legitimate interest in knowing the exact location at all times of every single inherently dangerous captive wild animal,” McMahon wrote.

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