This article was originally published by Four Points Press on December 16, 2021.
A Wyoming high court ruled on Dec. 3 that the state could no longer prevent Crow Tribal hunters from asserting their treaty-guaranteed hunting rights based solely on older, lower-court decisions.
The ruling comes over two years after the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Crow Tribe’s off-reservation treaty hunting rights remain intact.
The new decision comes from Wyoming District Court for the Fourth Judicial District Judge John G. Fenn, who held the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision changed the legal landscape.
Fenn's decision also held that an earlier court case in which Wyoming argued that it needed to enforce hunting laws against Crow Tribe treaty hunters for conservation purposes no longer applies because of the passage of time and changes in those hunting laws.
“This obviously is a big win for the Crow Tribe, and for the continued vitality of treaty hunting,” said NARF Staff Attorney Dan Lewerenz, who represented the Crow Tribe as an amicus curiae in this case. “We sincerely hope that this is the end of the story — that the State of Wyoming will not appeal, but instead will give the Crow Tribe and its treaties the respect they deserve.”
If Wyoming wants to continue to prosecute Crow Tribe treaty hunters in the Bighorn Nation Forest, it will need to prove either that they were hunting in a part of the forest that was “occupied” for purposes of the relevant treaties, or that enforcement of Wyoming’s laws is still required for conservation purposes (or both), NARF said in a press release.
The Crow Tribe was awarded hunting rights in what would become Wyoming in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, the rights were further affirmed in the 1868 signing of the the Fort Laramie Treaty.
The State of Wyoming refused to recognize Crow Tribe treaty hunting rights for over 100 years.
The question finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which held in 2019, in Herrera v. Wyoming, that the Crow Tribe’s off-reservation treaty hunting rights remain intact, but lower courts in the state of Wyoming tried to nullify the decision.