A district court judge’s decision foiled an attempt by four disabled Montana hunters who had sued to demand that the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks temporarily allow them to use crossbows during archery season this fall.
Tim Gardipee, Bruno Friia, Brad Molnar and David Helmers filed a lawsuit in Missoula against FWP and the Fish and Wildlife Commission on August 24, arguing that not allowing them to hunt with crossbows is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act . The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability.
Montana’s archery season opens September 4.
FWP and the Commission have not contested the hunters’ arguments, instead saying in court filings that the Commission intends to settle the matter at its Oct. 28 meeting – after the end of the shooting season. at the bow. With the agency and the Commission unopposed, Judge Dana Christensen canceled a scheduled hearing.
The hunters had applied for an interim interim injunction. Since the FWP did not oppose the plaintiffs’ request, the judge concluded that there was no controversy that would give the court jurisdiction, explained Michelle Bryan, a law professor at the University of Montana.
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“The judge also cited previous decisions in which courts have critically examined attempts to use judicial power when legislative efforts to change a law have failed,” Bryan said. “In these decisions cited, it appeared that plaintiffs and defendants in fact wanted the same result, and there was no real dispute for the court to resolve. It is possible that the judge saw this case in a light similar.”
Molnar called the judge’s decision “a bit bizarre” and said he was contacting his attorneys to request another hearing. Lawyers representing the plaintiffs did not respond to calls or emails regarding this story.
The Montana Bowhunters Association denounced the lawsuit in a weekend email alert to its members, saying the failure of FWP and the Fish and Wildlife Commission to oppose the lawsuit “smells of coercion and/or bribery”, claiming the issue should have gone to research.
“I certainly didn’t think Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ response was appropriate, to say the least,” said Steve LaPage, president of the Bowhunter Group.
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Brad Molnar, is a Republican senator from Laurel. During the last legislative session, he introduced a bill that would have legalized crossbows during archery season for hunters with disabilities. Senate Bill 111 called for a $10 crossbow license to be issued to bowhunters with disabilities as a result of a medical diagnosis determining the disability. The permit would have allowed the use of the crossbow by hunters during the archery season.
Bowhunting advocates have opposed the bill, noting that crossbows can already be used for hunting during other seasons, but allowing them during archery season could impact animals such as elk and pronghorn when they are more vulnerable during the rut.
The bill passed the Senate Fish and Game Committee in a 7-4 vote, with Republicans supporting the measure, but died in the standing committee. Similar bills in the past three legislative sessions have also been defeated.
Beginning in May, FWP attempted to help Molnar and the other plaintiffs receive the necessary permit to modify archery equipment for use by hunters with disabilities, said Becky Dockter, chief legal counsel for FWP. This permit, however, does not permit the use of a crossbow during archery season.
Molnar said he tried to address the commission at its August meeting but was turned down, prompting the filing of the lawsuit.
“We expected them to be reasonable,” he said.
Dockter said FWP does not oppose the request for a temporary restraining order from the four disabled hunters as long as the commission retains its ability to hold a hearing into the matter and allow public comment before making a decision. .
Usually, an application for an injunction would have given the judge the power to make a decision rather than the commission, Dockter explained.
Instead, Christensen’s decision allows hunters with disabilities to bring the case back to him after the commission hearing if they don’t rule in favor of the hunters.
Molnar was thrown by a horse five years ago, causing damage to his shoulder, ribs and legs. A bow hunter since the age of 12, he said after his injuries he could no longer draw a bow to shoot, but he could shoot a crossbow.
“They are exactly the same technology” as a modern compound bow, Molnar said, the only difference being that on one the bow arms point upwards and on the other they are horizontal.
“Mine is illegal because it points east and west,” he said.
The bowhunters’ argument that crossbow hunting is permitted in other seasons angers Molnar, calling it bigotry.
“And I don’t use that word lightly,” he said.
He also disputed arguments that allowing hunters with disabilities to use crossbows would affect wildlife numbers, saying so few use the technology that the effect would be small.
“Nobody is here looking for an advantage,” he said. “We try to lead a normal, comparative life a few days a year.”