Game farmers fight voter-approved ban 

Grumbling game farmers

Game farm owners trying to stop the implementation of I-143, last November’s voter-approved scale-back of game farming in Montana, will face the combined opposition of sportsmen’s groups when the matter comes before a judge.

The owners of the Yellowstone Game Ranch in Sidney and the Diamond K Ranch in Havre have filed an injunction in U.S. District Court in Missoula asking the court to put the initiative on hold until the court can determine the constitutionality of I-143. Meanwhile, the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, Montana Bowhunters Association, the Montana Wildlife Federation and several other sportsmen organizations have filed as interveners in the case.

Gary Holmquist, the Lolo man who helped spearhead the initiative which banned canned hunts of captive game animals, says the game farm industry is wrongly claiming that the passage of the initiative last November was an unconstitutional taking of property and livelihood.

“They’re basically saying they’ve lost their property. They haven’t,” Holmquist says. “They’ve been forced to change the way they do business. I-143 focused on ethical hunting, on which canned hunts is an assault.”

“Game farmers can still raise wildlife for their antlers and meat, or as breeding stock,” he adds.

Maybe, maybe not. Holmquist and state fish and game officials agree on one thing: The markets for all three commodities have collapsed. Korea has banned importation of antlers from North America, fearing chronic wasting disease. New Zealand is flooding the American meat market with government-subsidized red deer meat. And the price of a breeding cow elk has plummeted.

Holmquist says the game farm industry billed itself as a meat, antler and breeding stock operation, and downplayed the unpopular canned hunting aspect of the business. But the big money for the industry has always been in hunting, he says.

Though the two plaintiffs argue that their wildlife is “privately owned livestock,” Holmquist says otherwise. “These are animals that are native to Montana. They’re exploiting indigenous wildlife.”

Holmquist also faults the game farm industry for failing to discuss the real problems inherent in the business, such as the potential for disease spread, escape and hybridization, “the parts people don’t want to talk about,” as he puts it.

The injunction was filed in federal court, where plaintiffs hope to make their case that I-143 violates the U.S. Constitution. Holmquist says Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath wants the case moved to state district court.

Three Montana game farmers continue to advertise canned hunts despite the passage of the initiative that outlawed them, according to Holmquist. The June 2001 edition of The American Hunter, a magazine published by the National Rifle Association, features canned hunt ads placed by the Big Velvet Ranch south of Darby, the Judith River Ranch and the Yellowstone Game Ranch.

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