Crow Tribe Appeals Wyoming Hunting Rights Case to Tenth Circuit

On Monday, the Crow Tribe filed a Tenth Circuit appeal of the Wyoming federal district court’s ruling regarding off-reservation, off-season hunting in the Bighorn National Forest. On appeal, the Crow Tribe points to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling in Herrera v. Wyoming, which held that the tribe’s off-reservation hunting right has not been extinguished in the Bighorn National Forest. 

The underlying district court case was filed in January 1992, so it has been ongoing for nearly 30 years. In its 1992 complaint, the Crow Tribe sought declaratory judgment that its off-reservation hunting rights had not be extinguished. The tribe also sought an injunction barring Wyoming and its agencies from enforcing Wyoming’s hunting and fishing laws and regulations, in light of the treaty rights. In October 1994, the district court issued an order on the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment, denying the tribe’s requested relief regarding its hunting rights in the Bighorn National Forest. 

Then 26 years later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 2019 ruling in Herrera, which addressed Crow Tribe rights in the Bighorn National Forest. The Crow Tribe argues that this decision is at odds with the district court’s 1994 order.

In January 2021, two years after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Herrera, the tribe resurrected the district court case, filing a motion for partial relief from judgment seeking to overturn the Wyoming district court’s 1994 order. 

This summer, the district court denied the tribe’s newly filed motion. The court found that the tribe’s 26-year delay was timely, given the motion’s catalyst: the relatively recent Supreme Court case in 2019. But the court ultimately declined to overturn its 1994 ruling, holding that a Rule 60(b)(6) motion for relief from judgment does not permit the court to modify its 1994 order — even if “this Court’s decision on statehood and treaty hunting rights was repudiated [by Herrera] and no longer has preclusive effect.” The court also noted that the motion appears to be an attempt to overrule the Tenth Circuit’s 1995 Repsis decision, but the district court stated that it lacks the authority to do so.

On appeal, the Crow Tribe argues to the Tenth Circuit that the district court does have authority under Rule 60 to grant the relief, and the tribe also asks the Tenth Circuit to grant the Rule 60 motion, in the interests of judicial economy.

The Crow Tribe is represented on appeal by the Native American Rights Fund.