Tribal hunting of deer at night in the ceded territory, authorized by the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) last month, will not be allowed to go forward for now.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled Monday that the Chippewa tribes do not have the authority to authorize the night hunting without approval from the state.
In her decision, Crabb said, “To grant plaintiffs’ request, I would have to conclude that plaintiffs are permitted to amend a judgment that is more than 20 years old without a stipulation from defendants or approval from this court. Not only is that view untenable, but the consequences of adopting it could be perilous. One of the primary reasons for the creation of courts is to prevent the dangers that often accompany self-help remedies such as plaintiffs’ November 2012 order. Settling disputes by negotiation without court intervention is ideal for all the parties involved, but when negotiation fails, the parties must come to court (or submit to arbitration) to resolve the matter. The proper response cannot be for each side to decide on its own what the law permits, particularly with an issue like this one that involves public safety concerns. In these circumstances, it is essential that the parties exercise restraint and use the proper channels to resolve their dispute.”
Crabb suggests in her decision that the tribes and the state keep working together, saying, “A review of the parties’ negotiations leading up to the recent motions suggests that there remains a significant possibility of an agreement between the parties.”
Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp issued a statement shortly after the decision was handed down indicating that the ruling was what the DNR had anticipated.
“The Department of Natural Resources is pleased with U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision that Wisconsin Chippewa tribes overstepped their authority when they issued the authorization for hunting deer at night with lights without state approval,” Stepp stated.
“The DNR Secretary, the Department, and the State have maintained that the process established by the courts and the parties must be followed. The State will continue to work in good faith toward resolving the numerous issues surrounding the State’s management of natural resources within the ceded territory and their potential overlapping impacts with the Chippewa’s treaty established rights to self-regulate their own harvest. Judge Crabb summarized well what the State’s primary concern has been all along.”
GLIFWC public information office director Sue Erickson indicated that the tribes will continue to give the night deer hunt thought.
“Currently, the tribes are taking some time to evaluate the decision and discuss options that are open to them in the future,” she told The Lakeland Times on Tuesday.
In the wake of the ruling, the tribes don’t consider the night deer hunt to be a dead issue and plan to resume discussions with the state.
“We feel the judge ruled primarily on the matter of procedure, rather than the substance of the night hunt and safety and definitely pointed to further discussions with the state in regard to a treaty night hunt season for deer in the future,” Erickson said.
“And if our discussions don’t prove satisfactory [Judge Crabb] also indicated there’s an option to bring it back to court to amend the original judgment.”
Though the court ruling effectively halts night hunting this year, Erickson indicated the tribes are hopeful it can be in place for future seasons.
“We’re optimistic that an opportunity will eventuate next year,” she said.
Attorneys representing the Chippewa argued that the tribal night hunt for deer would be safer than night hunting for wolves. They also noted that tribal night deer hunters would have to pass a marksmanship test.
State attorneys argued that night deer hunting is riskier than going after wolves in the dark, something the state allows beginning the day after gun deer season – Nov. 26 this year.
The tribes tried to have a night hunt for deer put in place in 1989, when they argued that because the state allows night hunting for animals such as coyotes, tribes should be allowed to hunt deer at night. That hunt was not allowed.
The tribes have indicated that the state’s wolf hunt is among the changes in circumstances that prompted the tribes to pursue night deer hunting again.
Chippewa tribes were in opposition to the state’s wolf hunting and trapping season, trying in September to halt wolf hunting and trapping in the northern part of the state by laying claim to all wolves in the ceded territory.
GLIFWC announced Nov. 21 that a commission order authorizing night deer hunting by tribal members in the ceded territory was in place. Night hunting for deer was to start Nov. 26.
The DNR filed a motion in federal court Nov. 21 and the tribes filed a cross-motion Nov. 27.
Chippewa tribes held off on the hunt until the tribes and the DNR held a conference call with Judge Crabb Nov. 28. Crabb ruled then that the state could enforce its current laws until the hearing that concluded Monday.
One tribal hunter from the Mole Lake Band had received a night hunting permit, but GLIFWC cancelled the permit. More than 70 hunters had become eligible for a permit under tribal guidelines.
Tribal hunters hoping to take part in the night hunt had to submit a shooting plan that indicated a safe firing zone. Night hunting was to be conducted from elevated stands overlooking bait.
Under treaties signed in the 1837 and 1842, the Chippewa ceded 22,400 square miles across northern Wisconsin to the federal government while retaining off-reservation hunting and fishing privileges. The ceded territory covers roughly the northern one-third of Wisconsin.
Chippewa tribes conduct their own deer hunt, independent of state deer hunts, in the ceded territory. This year’s hunt concludes Jan. 6.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com