U.S. Supreme Moot Court
Wisconsin v. Plentywolf

Background of Wisconsin v. Plentywolf
Certiorari to the Surpreme Court of Wisconsin

Time: August 2005
Place: Wyoming Township, Wisconsin
Event: Incidences regarding the respondent’s use of bears in religious activities

Mr. Dennis L. Plentywolf, the respondent, is a Native American of Lakota descent born in South Dakota to members of the Pine Ridge Reservation of said state. During his youth, Plentywolf was taught the traditional spiritual ways and was set on the ‘path’ to become a holy man in those traditions. During this process, Plentywolf began to experience vivid dreams of bears. Lakota elders informed Plentywolf that these dreams were visions sent to uplift his spirituality and the spirituality of the Lakota in general. In late 2004, Plentywolf, then, purchased two declawed black bear cubs, named Timber and Tundra, to become his ‘spiritual helpers.’ These bears were blessed by the Lakota elders.

In April of 2005, Plentywolf and his bears relocated to Wisconsin. Plentywolf acquired three acres of land in Wyoming Valley, Iowa County, Wisconsin. His property contained a prayer tipi, an inipi lodge used to cleanse the spirit, and a bear enclosure for Timber and Tundra. At this location, Plentywolf began to conduct religious ceremonies and Native Americans of various groups (some non-Lakota) from across the nation would travel to Wyoming Valley in hopes of participating in this worship. No one was turned away from participating as long as they shared the belief in the bears’ spiritual power. Therefore the bears played a central part in these ceremonies. Plentywolf and the faithful believed that the bears’ sacred spirit protected the land and that their actual presence added strength to their rituals. To this end, participants in the ceremonies would interact with the bears including, at times, touching the bears’ head and torso. No one had ever harmed or been harmed by the bears in these rituals.

In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources governs the possession and exhibition of harmful wildlife. The DNR required that certain facilities and enclosures be built in order for Plentywolf to acquire the license for the possession of bears. Plentywolf had complied by late April of 2005 and was issued a Captive Wild Animal Farm Licensure.

In August of 2005, Plentywolf found that his bear enclosure had been vandalized and that the two bears had escaped. Immediately he called the DNR to inform them of the rogue bears. Meanwhile, a neighbor noticed the bears and, in an attempt to lure them back to Plentywolf’s land, the neighbor was bitten by Tundra. The neighbor then alerted the DNR and officials were sent to tranquilize and trap the bears. In this process, Tundra also bit one of the officials. Both bears were taken into custody. Through this incident and statements from the neighbor, the DNR was made aware of Plentywolf’s religious activities with his bears.

That same month Plentywolf was found in violation of Wisconsin Statute 169.11(1)(b) and fined $5000 for using the bears in interactive sessions in opposition to both state and federal laws. His Captive Wild Animal Farm License was revoked. The bears were subject to destruction under s.95.21(4)(b), the statute governing possible rabid animals, but remained in the state’s custody pending appeal. Plentywolf appealed to the Fourth District on grounds that the DNR had violated his first amendment right to the free exercise of his religion. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth District found that since Wisconsin Statute 169.11(1)(b) was a law that generally applied to all Wisconsinites with such a captive animal license, the law did not single out Plentywolf’s religion in particular, so his argument was rejected. Plentywolf appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court found that, since the DNR had made exceptions to s.169.11(1)(b) in the past (or has the ability to grant exceptions in the future), the state had no compelling reason to limit Plentywolf’s right to free exercise. The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered the return of the bears. In early 2007, the State of Wisconsin’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court was granted.

© 2007 Jason Hollenberger and River Valley Schools. All rights reserved. All similarities of this fictitious case to actual events (beside the basis case, Black Hawk v. Pennsylvania) is purely coincidental. This work is a derivation from the opinion issued in Black Hawk v. Pennsylavania by then-U.S. Appellate Court Judge Samuel Alito, a copy of which can be found here. This opinion was prepared by a U.S. government official in the course of his official duties therefore is in the public domain (17 U.S.C. § 101 and 105).

River Valley High School
Mr. Hollenberger

(2/18/07 jph)