The Crazy Elk Hunting Case that was Heard by the Supreme Court

By Cody J – B.O.C. April 10th 2019

photo: John Dodson

If you’re not aware on January 8th former game warden Clayvin Herrera of the Crow tribe and his two hunting partners were each convicted by the State of Wyoming of killing a bull elk out of season & without a license in 2014. His two companions pleaded guilty to the poaching charges and paid the fines. Herrera pleaded not guilty and has appealed his case all the way up to the Supreme Court, citing the 1868 Second Treaty of Fort Laramie which guarantees his tribal “right to hunt on the unoccupied lands of the United States so long as game may be found thereon.”

This story is crazy. The supreme court has heard the case and the decision will be made sometime in the next few months. 

Taken from Sam Lungren article on http://www.themeateater.com
https://www.themeateater.com/conservation/policy-and-legislation/inside-the-elk-hunting-case-before-the-supreme-court

According to sworn testimony from the trial, Herrera only got caught after he emailed the Wyoming Department of Fish & Game to discuss poaching near their shared border. The request was passed along to the game warden for that region, Dustin Shorma.
“I was having a lot of poaching incidents along the state line, and I wasn’t getting anywhere with any of them,” Shorma testified under oath. “So, you know, I thought it was a sincere outreach on his part to try to maybe work together to catch some of these people, so I contacted him for his help.”
Shorma and Herrera agreed to meet on a back road near the state line soon after. At that meeting, Shorma showed Herrera a spike bull that had been shot and left on the Crow Reservation side of the line.
“He was interested in knowing who I suspected was responsible for these poaching incidents. He was curious as to the capabilities of our forensic laboratory in Laramie.” Shorma said. “On the way home, I was kind of, I don’t know, maybe excited that I’d be able to solve some of these cases. But by the same token, it bothered me, some of the conversations that we had. I started kind of thinking like I was maybe being taken advantage of, I guess.”
When he returned home, Shorma decided to Google Herrera. He found lots of images of him posing with large deer and elk. He followed one link to a brag board website called Monster Muleys and Herrera’s post there with three elk titled: “Good Year on the Crow Reservation.”
“A couple of them looked like they were in Wyoming,” Shorma said. “Just based on the limited topography and vegetation I could see from the photographs, I kind of had a hunch where it was at, but I wanted to confer with some people who knew the area a lot better than I did.”
Shorma showed the photos to a local hunter familiar with Hunt Area 38, who had reported 12 poaching incidents in there that year. He confirmed Shorma’s hunch. Over the next several months, Shorma received more and more reports of out-of-season elk poaching in Hunt Area 38, adjacent to the Crow Reservation.
“I found a large bull elk that had been shot off the Pass Creek Road, and the only thing that had been taken was a little bit of backstraps and head had been removed,” he said. “I was getting pretty desperate. I mean, you know, the public entrusts a game warden to enforce the game laws.
“The way vehicles were coming and going, it was obvious to me that there was a possibility that it was members from the Crow Tribe who were responsible for some of this. So, I got on some of these forum sites that have pictures of dead elk, and I just started downloading pictures and taking note of names, who the hunters were and where they said they were and saving all that to my computer.”
On May 19, along with wildlife investigator Scott Adell and a stack of photos copied from Monster Muleys and Facebook, Shorma went into the area he believed Herrera and his friends had harvested their three bulls.
“We found remains at the site where Clayvin was kneeling next to the mature bull elk,” Shorma said. “We found a fourth bull that had been untouched.”
He took photos to match the scenes of the ones off Monster Muleys, using topography and unique knots and branch configurations on trees as points of reference. He also took GPS waypoints of the kill sites on the hillside, placing them about a mile away from the fence demarcating the Montana border and the Crow Reservation.
Shorma then confronted Herrera on Sept. 12. Presented with the photographic evidence, Herrera admitted that he and his friends had, in fact, killed the bulls in Wyoming. He was cited for two misdemeanors. Herrera insisted that he had crossed into Wyoming accidentally, but the jury agreed with the prosecution that, as a game warden, Herrera should have known better. The judge sentenced him to pay $8,000 in fines, serve a year probation and not hunt in Wyoming for three years. Wyoming’s appellate court upheld the conviction, but Herrera now hopes to have it overturned by the nation’s highest court.

More information on how the result can affect hunting in Wyoming and the whole article where I got my information can be found here:
https://www.themeateater.com/conservation/policy-and-legislation/inside-the-elk-hunting-case-before-the-supreme-court

You can also listen to the audio Podcast: Meat Eater Episode 158

-CJ

3 comments

  1. Oh wow, this is a crazy case. If the Supreme Court sides with Herrera, it could set a dangerous precedent. How are we supposed to define “unoccupied” lands? If that means land that doesn’t have houses on it, then that’s a huge chunk of territory in the western US that can be hunted regulation-free by anyone who claims tribal affiliation. If Herrera and his friends were hunting based on need – and actually using the animals they killed – then I wouldn’t be so upset, but they’re mostly just leaving them to rot.

    Liked by 1 person

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