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Foiled Elk Farmer Offers Free Shooting

November 20, 2001|From Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. — A Bitterroot Valley game-farm owner is letting hunters shoot his captive elk for free, saying he can no longer afford to feed them after a state law banned game farms from charging fees to hunt.

"The state has really defeated us. We lost," Len Wallace, owner of the Big Velvet Ranch near Darby, said Monday.

Wallace is running radio ads inviting hunters to kill animals in his 500-head elk herd. The first hunter, a 15-year old girl who is terminally ill with cancer, shot a six-point bull Sunday, Wallace said. The ranch has been inundated by calls from interested hunters, he said.

"There are thousands of people who are perfectly happy to come here and shoot these animals," he said.

Tim Feldner, state game farm coordinator for the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department, said Wallace's offer is legal, as long as no fee is charged.

Wallace said state game officials turned down his proposal to have hunters contribute their hunting fee to charity instead.

The Wallaces are among state game-farm owners who have filed a class-action lawsuit contesting a measure, which voters approved last November, that bans the shooting of captive game-farm animals for a fee in Montana.

The Wallaces also have filed a separate action in U.S. District Court, seeking a temporary order to halt the portion of the law that makes fee hunting of captive game-farm animals illegal.

Wallace and his wife, Pamela, were cited in September for taking money from five hunters. Wallace said he believes state game officials targeted his ranch because it was the largest in the state.

Their ranch pays more than $300,000 per year to feed the herd and faces a $15,000 tax bill this month, Thorning said.

"This is a crop to us, and we needed to harvest it. We can't give them away alive, we can't sell them as a crop, we're not allowed to let them starve because that would be inhumane and we're not allowed to dig a pit . . . and shoot them, because that would be a health violation."

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