By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
During the second day of a hearing before District Judge David Rice on the impacts Initiative 143 had on elk farmers, witnesses for the state testified that the property elk farmers own still have significant value.
Bozeman certified real estate appraiser Ed Jackson said Thursday he appraised the 1,120 acres land Kim and Cindy Kafka had licensed for an elk-shooting operation as worth $336,000.
"The property is located kind of in the foothills of the Bear Paws. It's a relatively attractive area," Jackson said.
The Kafkas filed a lawsuit against the state in April 2002, claiming I-143 was unconstitutional and resulted in a taking of their property without just compensation.
I-143, which passed 51 percent to 49 percent in 2000, includes prohibiting charging a fee to shoot elk on game farms.
District Judge John Warner, now a Montana Supreme Court Justice, ruled against an injunction that would have allowed the Kafkas to operate their shooting range while the lawsuit was in court. He later ruled that the initiative was constitutional, leaving only the Kafkas' claim that their property was taken without compensation.
Rice took over the case after Warner was appointed
The Kafkas were joined as plaintiffs by Jack and Myra Bridgewater, who own a game farm and shooting operation near Townsend, and by Jim and Barb Bouma, who own a game farm near Choteau where they raise animals to sell to shooting operations.
Sportsmen for I-143 and the Montana Wildlife Federation have intervened in the suit as defendants.
The hearing this week was to determine if property was taken. The next step in the process would be to determine what value of property was taken.
At the end of the hearing, Rice gave the attorneys on both sides until June 18 to file final arguments, after which he will review the case and make his decision.
Jackson said he appraised the best use of the Kafka property, part of which is an elk farm and part of which is a shooting range, as being for agricultural or recreational use, with the possibility of building homes on both sites.
He valued the 39-acre tract the Kafkas use to raise the elk at $31,200.
Jackson's partner Dennis Hoeger, also of Bozeman, appraised the value of the Bridgewaters' farm and shooting range at $945,000, with its best use as a recreational ranch.
He appraised the value of the Bouma property at $258,000, with its best use as agricultural land with possible conversion to residential or industrial use.
Jackson and Hoeger both said they had been instructed by Montana Assistant Attorney General Chris Tweeten, who is representing the state in the case, to determine the value of the land as of Nov. 7, 2000, when I-143 was approved by the voters. They could not consider its value as a game farm, because the initiative prevents shooting operations and the sale of game farm licenses, the appraisers said.
Jack Bridgewater testified Thursday that the income from his elk farm, which he and his wife started in 1991, cannot pay the cost of raising the elk.
He said that prior to the passage of I-143, his shooting operation took in from $3,900 to $54,000 for each bull elk, averaging between $8,000 and $9,000.
He testified that he had put his farm up for sale for $4 million, and had an interested party look at it in October 2000. Once I-143 passed, that potential buyer withdrew interest, he said.
Bridgewater said he has had the land for sale for the last 3 years at $2.1 million, with no interest shown, he said.
Bouma testified Wednesday that before I-143 passed he had sold some elk for more than $5,000 each, although he hadn't been in operation long enough to start selling significant numbers of mature animals.
Since then, he has sold some for $500, some for $650, and given some away to charitable causes, he said. "Without anybody in the business it's tough to sell them," he said.
Bridgewater said he had been selling his elk herd to reduce expenses, and sold 160 head to an operation in Colorado for about $89,000, about $556 each.
Bridgewater said he had an agreement that if the elk in Colorado are shot, he will receive some payment, although he did not specify the amount.
Tweeten asked if that meant he could still get more income from the elk.
"Hopefully," Bridgewater said. "(The buyer) is two years overdue now."