BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- A continuing dispute over then-Gov. Jim Risch's 2006 order for state wildlife agents to shoot elk rancher Rex Rammell's escaped animals has now reached the Idaho Supreme Court, where justices Wednesday heard arguments contending the state can't just shoot somebody's private property without a good reason.

The escaped elk and Risch's subsequent efforts to kill them caused a furor in 2006, precipitating efforts in the next Legislature to more strictly regulate ranches such as Rammell's offering high-priced hunts for prized bucks behind high fences.

Rammell tried to capitalize on the attention to bolster his political fortunes, including a failed 2008 run against Risch for U.S. Senate.

The Spokesman-Review ( ) reports justices Wednesday appeared skeptical of Rammell's arguments that Risch's shoot-to-kill order was illegal. Questioning Rammell's attorney, Justice Jim Jones suggested Idaho law allows state wildlife managers to carry out emergency hunts when animals are on the loose for more than seven days.

"Doesn't Fish and Game have the authority to issue emergency depredation hunts when situations arise?" Jones asked.

Rammell's lawyer, Patrick Furey, countered that Risch's order came unaccompanied by any evidence that roughly 160 elk that fled through a broken fence at Rammell's ranch were diseased or posed a threat to Idaho's wild elk herds near the border of Yellowstone National Park, located some 10 miles away.

"There was nothing at all about these elk to distinguish them as escapees from a neighbor's cattle herd that got out," Furey said. "This wasn't a case of velociraptors escaping from Jurassic Park."

Back in September 2006, Risch signed the order declaring open season on the wayward trophy bulls, citing fear they might spread disease or breed with wild elk, endangering the genetic purity of one of Idaho's prized big game species.

"I don't think we've ever had an escape like this before," Risch told The AP at the time. "This is serious business."

Dozens of animals were ultimately shot and killed.

Rammell objected, and the dustup took on a life of its own over the ensuing six years: Ever unpredictable, Rammell was arrested several times, including for poaching and on charges of obstructing a peace officer when he tried to interfere with Fish and Game agents. Then, he made a statement in 2009 about issuing a hunting tag for President Barack Obama, calling it a joke, and attracted national scrutiny.

Following another failed political bid -- Rammell lost a 2012 GOP primary for the state Legislature -- he moved to Wyoming to work as a veterinarian in June.

But his Idaho legal fights continue.

Rammell already lost once in the state Supreme Court, when justices in 2009 upheld fines levied against him for violations of rules governing elk ranching dating to 2004.

In this 2006 case challenging the legality of Risch's kill order, however, Rammell is hoping justices overturn a lower court's ruling against him.

On Wednesday, the state's attorney, Mike Kelly, told justices they shouldn't, on grounds Risch had the authority to issue the executive order. Kelly insisted that the interim governor actually waited longer than was legally required.

"Gov. Risch didn't issue that order until 26 days after the escape," he said.

Furey countered that an Idaho law releasing individual hunters and the state from financial or legal liability if a domestic animal has been loose for more than seven days should never have been justification for what Risch did.

"You can't just proclaim to go destroy private property, you've got to have a reason," Furey told the justices, who haven't said when to expect a ruling.


Information from: The Spokesman-Review,

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