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Battle over elk farms reaches fever pitch

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The controversy surrounding the viability of the elk game farm industry is rapidly escalating on the heels of a number of recent developments both in Montana and nationwide.

In Montana, Federal District Judge Donald Molloy is expected to rule on the preliminary injunction sought by game farm owners to prevent the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) from enforcing the statewide ban on canned hunts—the practice of charging a fee to shoot captive, domesticated elk–approved by voters last year.

Darby-area elk rancher Len Wallace, one of the most vocal critics of the new game farm law, has been cited five times during the past few weeks for allowing fee shooting on his ranch. Wallace pleaded not guilty in Ravalli County on Sept. 25.

In central Montana, game farm owner Charles Taylor has found another way to circumvent the fee-shooting ban–at least for now. Taylor, who owns the Big Sky Elk Ranch near Moore, is no longer collecting a fee for the shooting of his animals. Instead, he transfers ownership of a particular live elk to a client, who is then free to shoot or transport the animal. Although FWP contends that the practice is a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent the law, District Judge Wayne Phillips of Lewistown sided with Taylor last week when he issued a temporary restraining order against FWP, preventing the agency from taking action against Taylor. A hearing in that case is expected Oct. 4.

Meanwhile in Colorado, a massive quarantine of a herd of domestic elk infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD) has a former Colorado wildlife official calling for the complete eradication of game farms statewide. About 1,000 elk from three domestic herds in Colorado have been quarantined and will be destroyed in the coming weeks due to the presence of CWD, a brain-wasting malady closely related to mad cow disease.

The situation in Colorado has led John Mumma, former chief of the U.S. Forest Service and head of the Colorado Division of Wildlife from 1996 to 2000, to call for the extermination of all Colorado captive elk herds and the cessation of all elk and deer game farms.

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