R.J. Swenson, owner of a farm in Fifty Lakes, Minnesota, found a dead bear on his property in November, 2007. Swenson, a hunter, was interested in getting the bear’s head stuffed by a taxidermist but also wanted to be sure that this would not violate rules of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, so he had his lawyer contact the DNR about his dead bear.
The DNR confiscated the dead bear based on its position that the dead bear belonged to the state because “wild animals” belong to the state under Minnesota law. The DNR also issued a warning to Swenson for illegal possession of a wild animal in violation of Minnesota law.
In response, Swenson sued for the deprivation of his dead bear by the state. The trial court granted the state’s motion for summary judgment; now the Minnesota Court of Appeals (Wright, Ross, Harten) has reversed. The key? The referenced Minnesota law defines “wild animals” as “living creatures.”
The state countered that Minnesota law allows the state to regulate parts of wild animals (“A provision relating to a wild animal applies in the same manner to a part of the wild animal.”) Perhaps a dead bear can be thought of as “a part” of a live bear? The Minnesota Court of Appeals did not buy this argument (pointing out, in fact, that “dead parts” of wild animals are, at times, treated differently under Minnesota law), reversed the grant of summary judgment in the state’s favor. Now, maybe the state will seek review by the Minnesota Supreme Court and/or the parties will try to figure out how much Swenson is entitled to for his misappropriated dead bear?