Herrera vs. Wyoming Decision Raises Question Of Definition of Unoccupied Lands

May 22, 2019

Credit Patricia Lavin

In a close 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Native American rights.

In the case, the state of Wyoming charged Crow Tribe member Clayvin Herrera with hunting elk during the off season in the Bighorn National Forest. But Herrera claimed an 1868 federal treaty with the tribe gave Crow tribal members the right to hunt on unoccupied lands outside its reservation year-round.

While the Supreme Court sided with Herrera, there's still an outstanding issue: the definition of unoccupied lands. Brian Nesvik, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said the state's lawyers are in the process of figuring that out.

"Our lawyers in the state are continuing to evaluate what this decision means and how they treated different issues," said Nesvik. "And we realize that we are going to have an opportunity to re-discuss some of those issues, but in court proceedings."

He said meanwhile, the tribe's right to hunt on public lands during off seasons doesn't change the state's hunting seasons or licenses.

"Today the decision doesn't change anything on the ground," said Nesvik. "Nothing changes in the immediate near future."