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Judge says no night hunt for Wisconsin Chippewa tribes

November 29, 2012 at 07:26 AM

The Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday stalled the Wisconsin Chippewa’s plans for hunting deer at night for at least the next two weeks as the state and the tribes gear up for what promises to be a blistering legal fight.

In a surprise ruling during what was scheduled as a telephone status conference with state and tribal attorneys, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb declared the state’s ban on night deer hunting extends to tribal hunters. That could change as early as Dec. 12, however, when Crabb is scheduled to consider the Chippewa’s request to exempt tribal hunters from the prohibition.

“It’s a good result because it allows us to kind of take a pause and say hey, let’s fully evaluate this activity before we allow it or don’t allow it,” said state Department of Natural Resources attorney Quinn Williams.

Sue Erickson, a spokeswoman for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, the organization that oversees the Chippewa’s off-reservation rights, said the commission would comply with Crabb’s ruling and rescind night hunting authorization for tribal hunters until Dec. 12.

“It would have been very nice for the tribal members to be able to exercise their rights during that time,” she said. “It deprives them of that opportunity. But we are more than happy to cooperate with the court. ... Hopefully it plays out in the tribes’ favor.”

The commission quietly authorized tribal hunters last week to go after deer after dark across the so-called ceded territory, a 22,400-acre swath of northern Wisconsin the tribes handed over to the federal government in the 19th century.

The move has sparked a bitter squabble with the DNR, which has banned night deer hunting for decades out of safety concerns. The tribes agreed to the prohibition two decades ago ago while they were hashing out their hunting and fishing rights in the ceded territory in a series of lawsuits in front of Crabb.

But the tribes contend the state changed the rules this year when it authorized hunters to go after wolves at night. The wolf hunt has been a sore spot with the Chippewa, which consider the animal a brother.

The commission has argued tribal hunters are entitled to similar hunting opportunities and must meet stringent safety requirements to get a night permit. Night hunting was scheduled to begin this past Monday evening, but Erickson said no one had requested a permit as of Wednesday afternoon.

The DNR filed a motion with Crabb asking her to block the night hunt the same day the authorization came down. The agency contends the tribes breached their agreement 20 years ago to impose the state prohibition.

The tribes countered by asking Crabb to temporarily block the DNR from enforcing the ban on tribal hunters.

Crabb on Wednesday adopted the state’s arguments word for word, agreeing that the tribes had withdrawn from their agreement, night deer hunting presents a danger to the public and the state prohibition is a narrow restriction on tribal hunting rights.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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