May 13, 2009 in Idaho

Former elk rancher challenges Idaho rules

The Associated Press The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE — Rex Rammell, a former elk rancher with political ambitions who was fined for violating Idaho’s domestic elk regulations, has asked the Idaho Supreme Court to find the rules unreasonable.

Rammell’s attorney, Karl Runft, told the high court Wednesday that the Idaho Department of Agriculture denied him due process.

“The record is very clear,” Runft said. “The panel precluded Mr. Rammell to present any argument on the issue of reasonableness.”

The case arose from an incident in 2005, when Rammell was still operating a 168-acre domestic elk hunting ranch — a place where clients paid as much as $12,000 for the chance to stalk a prized bull elk.

Problems with the fence at the ranch prompted the Idaho Department of Agriculture to charge Rammell with nine violations of Idaho laws and regulations pertaining to domestic elk.

During an Idaho Department of Agriculture hearing on the matter, Rammell admitted to the violations but argued that the rules were unconstitutional, unreasonable and beyond the scope of the Idaho Department of Agriculture’s authority. Unmoved, the department fined him $29,000 — a ruling later upheld by 7th District Court Judge Brent Moss.

The hearing officer was wrong when she denied Rammell the chance to have the state veterinarian testify that the risk of domestic elk spreading chronic wasting disease was nil — which could lead a court to conclude that the rules were excessively stringent, Runft said.

“His theory, very simply put, is that the rules are unreasonable,” Runft told the high court. “Obviously he was somewhat compromised in proving that to the court.”

Deputy Idaho Attorney General Steven Strack, arguing on behalf of the Idaho Department of Agriculture, told the justices that Rammell had more than enough opportunity to get his arguments heard at the hearing. In fact, he said, more than 400 pages in the more than 600-page hearing transcript consist of Rammell putting on evidence questioning the reasonableness of the rules.

“If anything, the district court found the hearing officer was too tolerant and allowed him to go on far too long,” Strack said.

Rammell had previously testified against the domestic elk rules before the Idaho Legislature and during the rule-making process, Strack said.

“It’s obvious that Dr. Rammell had some very pointed opinions,” Strack said. “He could have challenged these rules with no risk to himself. … Instead, he chose to engage in civil disobedience.”

It was not immediately clear when the court would rule.

Rammell, who announced after the hearing Wednesday that he would run as a Republican for the governor’s seat against Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in the 2010 primary, said his frustrations with the case were part of what prompted him to run for office.

“My point from the very beginning is let me make my argument,” Rammell said. “I’m a veterinarian. I live on facts. The people who make the rule decide whether or not it’s reasonable or not. We should be able to challenge that.”

Rammell sold the ranch after about 110 of his elk escaped through a hole in the fence in 2006. The escape prompted then-Gov. Jim Risch to order an emergency hunt to reduce the chances that they could spread inferior genes or disease to wild herds near Yellowstone National Park.

Rammell was later arrested, accused of tussling with wardens and sharpshooters assigned the job of killing his elk. Rammell has twice been acquitted of any criminal charges related to the scrape and none of his elk tested positive for any diseases. Rammell later sued the state, contending that the emergency hunt destroyed his business and that the actions were arbitrary, capricious and malicious.

Neither the escape and subsequent hunt nor the arrest was part of the case before the Idaho Supreme Court on Wednesday.

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