Montana Outdoors

Mar 13, 2014 9:36 AM by Apoorva Joshi - MTN News

MT Supreme Court rejects appeal against expanding bison area

HELENA - The Montana Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Park County challenging an expansion of the area that bison can roam north of Yellowstone National Park.

Park County appealed after a district judge ruled that is was permissible for bison to occupy areas in the Gardiner basin during winter months.

The State of Montana has managed the seasonal migration of bison in and around Yellowstone National Park through the Interagency Bison Management Plan [IBMP] since 2000.

The management plan allows for changes like the winter range expansion through Adaptive Management Adjustments [AMAs].

Montana Supreme Court Justice Beth Baker wrote about Tuesday's judgement that because Park County had appealed an issue that had not raised previously in the District Court, the appeal had no standing.

Justice Baker wrote that the real question was, "whether Park County may appeal an issue it did not raise before the District Court. We hold that it may not."

Park County's appeal came after, in January 2013, Fergus County District Judge E. Wayne Phillips ruled that the appellants (Park County Strockgrowers Association, Montana Farm Bureau Federation and Park County) had failed to show that the state had violated any laws by expanding the winter territory for Yellowstone National Park bison.

Initially, Park County's claim was that the bison created a public nuisance. Later, cases that focused on bison area management were combined in a process called "consolidation". Park County's case joined other plaintiffs' appeals when cases were consolidated.

However, in District Court, Park County argued only the public nuisance issue and did not raise any other claims.

In March 2013, while the Farm Bureau and Park County joined hands in appealing the ruling, the Stockgrowers Association opted out of joining the appeal.

That October, the Farm Bureau presented its claim to the Montana Supreme Court stating that District Judge Phillips had not properly considered a state law that imposes restrictions on where the FWP can transport bison.

Judge Phillips ruled that this state law did not apply to naturally migrating bison from Yellowstone National Park.

A month after this ruling, the Farm Bureau asked the Supreme Court to dismiss its appeal, leaving Park County standing as the single appellant. Instead of continuing to argue its prior claim that bison create a public nuisance, Park County instead argued the issue of the state law that restricts bison transport.

As court documents mention, Park County had not brought up the issue of the state law in previous hearings in District Court.

Justice Baker wrote that plaintiffs cannot adopt each other's issues, even if cases have been consolidated, if they have not raised those issues in a lower court.

Based on legal precedence, the Montana Supreme Court, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court support this ruling.

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