The Crow Tribe has launched a plan to capture 550 wild elk on its reservation in the Bighorn Mountains of Montana. It's the beginning of the tribe's foray into game farming, but it is also sure to mark the beginning of a bitter battle over publicly owned wildlife.


"It is a spooky proposal, that's for sure," says Harry Harju, of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. "It's just a plan to steal the public's wildlife, and it is illegal."


The elk that winter on the Crow Reservation in south-central Montana spend the summer months in Wyoming, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department estimates that the herd contains about 1,500 elk.


The tribe, however, puts that number at 5,000. In addition to this fall's capture operation, the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune reports that the plan also calls for the capture of at least 330 elk per year over the next 10 years.


Two companies based in West Jordan, Utah, would capture the elk and finance and manage the tribe's game farm. James Innes, owner of both companies, Wildlife Resource Management and Helicopter Wildlife Management, says the project is entirely legal.


"Provided they have a management plan, the Crows can do whatever they want with their elk," Innes says. "The tribe has sovereign immunity, and this whole plan hinges on that fact. Elk ranching is just going to get bigger and bigger throughout the country, and the Indians are in a good position to capitalize on that. This is no different than exploiting any other resources they might have, like water or minerals."


*Hal Herring