The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), the commission that oversees Chippewa Tribes’ hunting and fishing rights, announced on Nov. 21 that a commission order authorizing night deer hunting by tribal members in the ceded territory was in place.
The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says the order is in violation of state law.
“They have decided to step outside of the stipulation process and outside of the stipulation negotiations and do a commission order instead – that they believe would give their members permission to shine and hunt deer at night, off of the reservations in the ceded territory. We believe they don’t have that authority,” DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp told The Lakeland Times.
The commission’s plan allows tribal members the usage of lights to hunt deer at night starting Nov. 26 on off-reservation lands within the ceded territory. The action prompted the DNR to file a motion in federal court.
Stepp said the purpose of the motion is “first of all, to not allow them to do this and, secondly, to give us clarity and permission to enforce state law.”
The state cites safety issues in particular.
“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 wrote in the motion.
Stepp said an earlier federal court ruling on treaty rights puts the burden of filing a motion on the state in this situation.
“Apparently, there was a decision years ago by Judge Crabb that ... said if the tribes decided to step outside of the bounds of the law, that we’d have to come back to her to get permission to enforce state law,” she said. “So, that’s what we filed for with the Department of Justice [Nov. 21].”
The DNR contends that the new night hunting issue is the same as one the tribes lost in federal court in 1989, when they argued that because the state allows night hunting for animals such as coyotes, tribes should be able to hunt deer at night.
Prior to the recent move, the state had been in discussions with GLIFWC regarding the possibility of tribal deer hunting at night. Stepp indicated that she believes the process was halted too abruptly and too soon.
“We’ve got safety concerns, and that’s what we were trying to work through the stipulation process on – to address those. We’ve got lots of things that ... we talk about during the stipulation negotiations, this is just one of those topics. And, then, all of a sudden, they just issue this,” she said.
GLIFWC countered the state’s claim that the night hunt would be dangerous, saying that if it is safe enough to hunt wolves at night – something the new wolf hunting rules allow beginning Nov. 26 – it’s safe enough to hunt deer at night.
Stepp said, with the decision by GLIFWC coming a day before the Thanksgiving holiday and just five days before night hunting would start, the state was left with little time to get the word out.
“It doesn’t give us time to educate the public – that they could be hearing shots at night and be seeing people shining deer and hunting deer at night – which is clearly outside of state law,” she said.
Stepp, in a Nov. 20 letter to GLIFWC administrator Jim Zorn, urged GLIFWC not to go forward with the order that would allow night hunting for deer, but also asking that, if they did, that they give the state at least a one-week notice to “take appropriate measures to protect public safety.”
Maulson’s mum, GLIFWC not available
Lac du Flambeau Tribal Council President Tom Maulson didn’t have a lot to say in the wake of the commission order.
“We’re allowing our GLIFWC public relations people to do all our responding on that,” he said when asked Friday about the night deer hunt.
Asked about safety, Maulson did offer a comment suggesting that the tribes have adequately addressed these issues, and perhaps suggesting that the state has been lax.
“Other than the fact that ... we’re taking care of all our safety concerns way ahead of time, something that the state hasn’t done about ... I’ll leave it at that,” he said.
Asked to comment further, Maulson simply said, “Be looking forward to doing it as soon as they start here ... Monday [Nov. 26].”
GLIFWC offices were closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, but Zorn had earlier indicated that the rules allowing night hunting for deer were similar to those the state has in place for night wolf hunting, noting that tribal hunters would be allowed to shine deer at the point of kill, not randomly sweep fields and woods with lights.
In a Nov. 9 letter to Stepp, Zorn said the DNR “has not raised any safety concerns that do not already exist for state citizens hunting wolves at night under state law.”
In the letter, Zorn went on to say that “safety precautions go well beyond the state law requirements for wolf hunting at night.”
Tribal hunters participating in night deer hunting would have to visit their hunting area during daylight hours and submit a “shooting plan” which shows a safe field of fire and notes roads, schools and other structures within a quater-mile of the location they plan to hunt.
The tribes came out in opposition to 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. That effort was denied.
Under treaties signed in 1837 and 1842, the Chippewa ceded 22,400 square miles across northern Wisconsin to the government while retaining off-reservation hunting and fishing privileges. In 1991, a federal court ruled that tribes have the right to at least 50 percent of the harvestable surplus for any animal hunted in the territory. The ceded territory covers roughly the northern one-third of Wisconsin.
Backed by federal ruling, Chippewa tribes conduct their own deer hunt, independent of state deer hunts, in the ceded territory.
Night deer hunting for Chippewa tribes would run until the end of the tribal deer hunting season Jan. 6.
The state’s regular nine-day gun deer hunting season ended Sunday, Nov. 25, with a 10-day muzzleloader season opening Nov. 26.
Night hunting for wolves is allowed beginning Nov. 26, but area Wolf Management Zones 2 and 4 were closed Nov. 16 as they neared quota, meaning no wolf hunting or trapping can legally take place in northeastern Wisconsin. The zones include all of Oneida and Vilas counties.