A legislative proposal authorizing Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon to negotiate off-reservation hunting agreements with Tribes has passed the Wyoming House of Representatives.
House Bill 83 was received for introduction in the Wyoming Senate on Monday and referred to the Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, introduced the bill last week in the House, explaining that the U.S. Supreme Court decision Herrera v. Wyoming “found no evidence that statehood abrogated the treaty rights of Indian Tribes to hunt off-reservation lands.”
“This decision, folks, has set aside state law, (which) to this point has been the law of the land,” Larsen said.
He added that the decision also “leaves ambiguity” as to how the “state’s right to manage wildlife and conservation” might interact with Tribal “treaty rights to hunt off reservation.”
Last year, Larsen said, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe approached the governor’s office and suggested they “work together to define an established process to respect the conservation efforts of both the Tribe and the state while addressing the hunting rights of the Tribe (and) the right the state has to manage wildlife.”
HB 83 is “the result of that collaboration,” he said.
Several representatives asked about the bill’s impact on other Tribes who might want to exercise their off-reservation hunting rights in Wyoming, with Rep. Ken Chestek, D-Laramie, specifically questioning the restrictions the bill places on the agreements Gordon can negotiate.
“The sideboards … appear to me to be very one-sided, very pro-Western, and very much opposed (to) Indian nations’ prior treaty rights,” Chestek said. “Do these sideboards impose Western values on these lands over the wishes of the Indian nations? … I don’t want to trample (their) rights.”
In response to the question, Larsen reiterated that the Supreme Court decision didn’t clearly define the relationship between state and Tribal governments with regards to off-reservation hunting rights, so HB 83 could help “lay the foundation and the precedent” for working together on the issue.
“It also really helps to set into place that the state has made a good-faith effort in making these negotiations (in a) collaborative manner, so that the Supreme Court doesn’t step back and say, ‘You just haven’t done it, so we’ll do it for you,’” he said.
Wyoming Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, who grew up in Fremont County and attended school at St. Stephen’s, said the sideboards are “attractive” because they keep Gordon from making any agreements that are “inconsistent with our statutes” – including new state laws that may be enacted in the future.
“This concept is going to come back, and we’re going to address it over and over again,” Nicholas said, noting that another Tribe with off-reservation hunting rights in Wyoming, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, took the more “strident position” that “the states simply cannot prevent us from hunting anywhere at any time.”
“Fortunately, the folks from Fort Washakie are saying, ‘We want to be reasonable about this – we want to work with you and come to a resolution that’s consistent with Wyoming law (and) the rights that we have from the treaties,’” Nicholas said.
When Wyoming Rep. Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, asked for more information about the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes’ position on the bill, Larsen said “they would prefer to have sole authority to determine how they hunt in Wyoming under the Supreme Court law.”
By contrast, he said, “we, working with the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, feel like it needs to be structured between the two parties that both have rights.”
One ‘no’ vote
Wyoming Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, spoke in favor of HB 83, which offers “the opportunity for both the Tribes and the state to move forward in coming to an agreement that everybody can understand.”
Wyoming Rep. Sarah Penn, R-Lander, voiced support as well.
“(HB 83) does work to clear up ambiguity that has kind of been left with some of the court decisions,” Penn said. “I think that this works to facilitate handling these situations that, as have been discussed, are likely to continue to come up in the future.”
Chestek was still concerned that HB 83 would not create a “fair negotiation system,” however.
“The sideboards (put) some restrictions on the governor’s ability to make a deal – there are certain things that are non-negotiable,” he said. “That’s not a fair negotiation, when one side says, ‘We’ll negotiate with you, but we’re not going to give you any of these things. Those are off the table.’ …
“I just want us to think carefully about setting up a negotiation regime that ties the hands of one side and says, ‘We’re going to win on these issues all the time.’”
Chestek was the only representative to vote against HB 83 on third reading in the House.