Not every day does a U.S. Supreme Court case have direct impacts on the residents of Sheridan County. On Monday, though, the high court ruled in favor of a member of the Crow tribe in a hunting rights case that originated out of Bighorn National Forest and Wyoming’s 4th Judicial District.
Following three judicial rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted review of the case against Clayvin Herrera, who allegedly killed elk on public land out of season in January 2014 in Sheridan County. The court heard oral arguments for the case in January.
Earlier this year, Bill Yellowtail, a rancher from the Wyola area and former Montana state senator, gave a presentation to employees of the Bighorn National Forest, outlining the background of the case and the variety of effects it may have.
If Wyoming prevailed in the case, Yellowtail said, it could call into question hunting and other rights in treaties Native Americans across the country have with the U.S. If Herrera prevailed, it could open up much of Wyoming — and with additional challenges, lands across the country — to tribal hunting without regard for state laws and conservation efforts.
While the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision outlined potential arguments the state may pursue as the case is remanded back to lower courts, it does not promise any specific results.
Instead, the decision likely leaves many in Wyoming — specifically those who work in land and wildlife management or enjoy the benefits of those efforts — with more questions than answers.
Officials within those agencies have largely opted to keep quiet immediately following the decision. They likely are at least a little surprised, but I imagine they also hope to avoid speculation. After all, until the case makes its way back through the lower courts, little is clear as to how it will impact land and game management moving forward.
In the meantime, though, rhetoric from the public has already reached a frantic pitch. Many fears — real and exaggerated — have been voiced and then stoked. Many have expressed fears that violence may come out of the U.S. Supreme Court decision. I hope not.
I hope cooler, calmer heads prevail as this case moves back to lower courts for additional litigation. Until courts offer additional guidance, little can be done.
And while members of the public are likely frustrated as they look to the leaders of affected agencies to explain what such a landmark decision could mean, the leaders are likely just as frustrated by an inability to answers questions. After all, how do you offer answers when you are still formulating the questions? I only hope that as the judicial process continues, leaders within the agencies most affected by the decision speak up about the potential outcomes; they could provide some of the most informed context for the future.