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Print

Chippewa tribal commission OKs night deer hunt

November 22, 2012 at 04:51 PM

The Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A commission that oversees Chippewa tribes’ off-reservation rights quietly authorized tribal hunters on Wednesday to go after deer at night across much of northern Wisconsin, sparking another bitter clash with state wildlife officials.

The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission issued the authorization for tribal hunters effective Monday, commission spokeswoman Sue Erickson told The Associated Press.

The state Department of Natural Resources prohibits hunting deer at night, contending the practice is too dangerous. But the commission argues that tribal members should be allowed to hunt deer at night since wolf hunters can go out after dark starting Monday.

The DNR quickly filed a motion in federal court Wednesday evening to block the authorization, accusing the commission of overstepping its authority.

DNR officials chafed at the commission’s decision to issue the authorization the night before Thanksgiving, complaining they have no time to warn people bullets could be flying around in the dark as early as Monday across a sprawling region known as the ceded territory.

“People will not be safe if tribal members are allowed to discharge high-powered firearms at night in the ceded territory,” Assistant Attorney General Diane Milligan, who is representing the DNR, wrote in the court motion.

The commission’s move marks another dicey chapter in the state’s relationship with the six Chippewa tribes in Wisconsin.

Under treaties signed in the early 1800s, the Chippewa ceded the 22,400 square miles across northern Wisconsin to the government.

A federal court ruling in 1991 found the tribes have the right to harvest at least 50 percent of the quota for any animal hunted in the territory. Backed by that court ruling, the tribes have run their own deer hunt in the ceded territory for years independent of the state’s bow and firearm seasons for years. The tribal season generally runs from late August until early January.

The tribes tried to draft rules allowing their members to hunt deer at night more than two decades ago. They argued then that they should be allowed to hunt at night because the state permitted night coyote and fox hunting.

A federal judge ultimately forbid it, ruling that hunting deer at night is more dangerous than hunting fox and coyotes because hunters use larger bullets fired from longer ranges at higher angles.

The wolf hunt, though, has stirred up plenty of resentment among the Chippewa, who consider the animal a brother.

State legislators concerned that the burgeoning wolf population was causing more livestock attacks approved a plan this spring establishing the first organized wolf hunt, despite fierce tribal opposition. The commission even went so far as to lay claim to the lives of every wolf in the ceded territory in an effort to protect them.

In September, the commission angered the DNR by unilaterally allowing tribal hunters to kill an elk, a species the DNR has been trying to re-establish in Wisconsin for decades.

The commission approved night deer hunting the same way Wednesday, tossing aside the DNR’s safety concerns and going it alone, Stepp said.

The commission is rehashing the same arguments the judge rejected years ago, this time swapping wolves for coyotes, Stepp said. She sent a letter to tribal leaders Wednesday asking them to hold off until the matter is decided in court.

“This is one of those issues,” Stepp said in a telephone interview, “we need to push back on.”

The commission’s leader, Jim Zorn, has insisted that night deer hunting would be safe. The authorization’s terms largely parallel the state’s night wolf hunting regulations. Tribal hunters would be allowed to shine deer only at the point of kill — not randomly sweep fields and woods with lights — just like wolf hunters.

Tribal hunters also would have to submit a shooting plan noting they have visited the hunting area during the day, clearly marking a safe field of fire and noting schools, roads and other structures within a quarter-mile.

“We’re not authorizing shining. We’re authorizing night hunting. That needs to be very clear,” Erickson said. “If the DNR deems that safe, why is it not safe for the tribes to do it?”


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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