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FWP doesn’t oppose Laurel legislator’s lawsuit to use crossbows during archery season

Doug Krings

Even though a Legislative push to allow crossbows during the archery season failed, four people, including the legislator who sponsored the bill, are suing Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks so they can use crossbows during the archery season, which starts Saturday.

On Tuesday, the Missoula Federal District Court held an emergency hearing on whether four men should be allowed to use crossbows during the archery-only season that runs Sept. 4 through Oct. 17. The four men challenging FWP’s rules against the use of crossbows are Tim Andrew Gardipee, Bruno Friia, David Helmers and Brad Molnar.

Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, sponsored Senate Bill 111, which would allow people to use crossbows during the archery season if a doctor decided they had a reduced ability to hold a bow. It wasn’t the first attempt crossbow advocates have tried to make inroads into the archery season, even though crossbows are already allowed during the general season.

But Molnar himself claims to have such a disability, so his push for crossbows is personal. He referred to Montana bowhunters as liars and bigots for defending the archery only season.

However, the bill was defeated, partially because the Montana Bowhunters Association and other organizations regularly modify archery bows so handicapped hunters can use them. Also, 11 other states limit crossbows to use only during the firearm seasons, including Alaska and Washington.

But the recent lawsuit shows it didn’t end there for Molnar and the other three.

A week ago, Bruce Fredrickson of the Kalispell-based Rocky Mountain Law Partners and Helena attorney Christopher Gallus filed the complaint against FWP, claiming the Americans with Disabilities Act was being violated because the four men were being denied the benefits of participating in the archery season.

The lawsuit acknowledges that SB 111 was defeated but claims that “precluded the Legislature’s ability to rectify a wrong.” So they asked the courts to step in to allow the four men to use crossbows; otherwise the men would “suffer irreparable harm” by having to wait until the general season begins on Oct. 23.

Molnar isn’t the only Republican legislator involved. According to court documents, the Rocky Mountain Law Partners retained Sen. Albert Olszewski, R-Kalispell, at a consulting rate of $1,300 an hour, to review the four men’s claims of disability, because Olszewski is also an orthopedic surgeon. In his statement, Olszewski criticized FWP for not allowing crossbows on a case-by-case basis and blamed Montana bowhunters’ organizations.

“My understanding is that these same groups continue to lobby the Montana Legislature to block reasonable accommodation to allow anything other than their own program, regardless of what the ADA requires,” Olszewski said in his declaration.

On Friday, FWP legal council Aimee Hawkaluk responded to the court, saying the FWP commission is already considering the four men’s application and planned to consider the matter at its Oct. 28 meeting. Because of that, the department could not act in time for this year’s archery season. So Hawkaluk wrote that FWP wasn’t opposing the plaintiffs’ request for injunction, because due to the timing, that’s the only way the men could hunt in this year’s archery season.

Because FWP didn’t provide any opposition, Federal Court Judge Dana Christensen closed the case on Sunday, saying “The parties before the Court ‘desire precisely the same result’: an order by the Court compelling Defendants to allow Plaintiffs to use crossbows to hunt during Montana’s Archery Only Season.”

However, on Monday, the Rocky Mountain Law Partners requested an emergency hearing because Molnar and Friia had gone to FWP regional offices to get their crossbow permits for the archery season on Monday but had been denied, according to court records. So the men wanted Christensen to grant a federal court injunction.

Christensen scheduled the emergency hearing for Tuesday, but stipulated that the attorneys be prepared to state why his order was necessary.

Calls were made to State of Montana and FWP attorneys and FWP spokesman Greg Lemon to find out the outcome but they weren’t returned by the end of Tuesday.

Montana bowhunters are concerned as to why just four men might be given the go-ahead to use crossbows during the archery season and that FWP is not defending the archery season.

According to a statement from Traditional Bowhunters of Montana spokesman Dane Rider, “TBM hopes the Fish and Wildlife Commission will act in the best interest of Montana bowhunters and deny the plaintiffs’ request.”

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.