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No permits issued yet for Wisconsin Chippewa night deer hunt

  • Article by: TODD RICHMOND
  • Associated Press
  • November 26, 2012 - 6:00 PM

MADISON, Wis. - Night deer hunting for Wisconsin's Chippewa tribes began Monday evening, but a spokeswoman for the commission overseeing it said no hunters had obtained permits to participate.

The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which oversees the Chippewa's off-reservation treaty rights, authorized night hunting last week for tribal members who meet a number of safety requirements, including a marksmanship test. The decision drew sharp opposition from state officials, who said night deer hunting was too dangerous and have gone to court to stop it.

Commission spokeswoman Sue Erickson said 74 tribal members from five of Wisconsin's six Chippewa tribes met the marksmanship requirements, making them eligible for a permit. However, none had applied by Monday afternoon. If they had, they would have been able to head out 50 minutes after sunset, a day after the state's traditional firearms season ended.

The state Department of Natural Resources has asked a judge to halt the hunt and sent letters to tribal chairmen Friday asking them not to issue any hunting permits until the judge rules. DNR spokesman Bill Cosh said the agency hasn't received a response from any of them but officials were still pleased they hadn't issued any permits.

Erickson said the chairmen didn't decide to withhold permits because of the DNR's request but suggested hunters may be holding off on their own until the Chippewa file a response in court.

"They may be just waiting to see what happens in court and are just being cautious," said George Meyer, a former DNR secretary who now serves as executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, an organization that represents hunters, anglers and trappers. "Relations (between the Chippewa and the state) are really strained."

Treaties the Chippewa signed in the 1800s with the federal government reserved the tribes' right to hunt and fish in the so-called ceded territory, 22,400 acres across northern Wisconsin the tribes handed over to the government. A series of federal court decisions in the 1970s confirmed the tribes can hunt or fish as they wish in the territory as long as they don't endanger conservation efforts or public safety.

The tribes have been running their own deer hunts alongside the state seasons in northern Wisconsin for years, but night hunting has been a sticking point between the two sides.

The DNR has outlawed night hunting, saying hunters can't identify their targets or see what lies beyond them in the dark. The Chippewa tried in 1989 to convince a federal judge to allow tribal members to hunt deer at night, arguing the DNR permits night hunts for fox and coyote. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb sided with the DNR, though, saying night deer hunting presents a safety risk and the state ban, therefore, applies to the Chippewa.

Tension between the tribes and the state boiled up again this year after legislators dallied with a bill loosening restrictions on mining and established Wisconsin's first organized wolf hunt.

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa feared the mining bill would lead to a giant iron mine just south of the lake, devastating area water quality and harming their beloved rice beds. The Chippewa as a whole also were vehemently opposed to the wolf hunt; the tribes consider the animal a sacred brother.

This fall, the Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission authorized tribal hunters to kill an elk, a species the DNR has been struggling to re-introduce in Wisconsin since the mid-1990s. And then the commission authorized the night deer hunting, noting the state's wolf regulations allow night hunting for that animal beginning Monday.

DNR officials, though, maintain the commission ignored their arguments that night deer hunting is too dangerous.

They say Crabb's ruling two decades ago bars the practice, and they asked her to halt the hunt. The commission planned to file a response to that request arguing the state changed the rules when it allowed night wolf hunting. Erickson said that filing could come Tuesday morning.

Meyer, with the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, noted the Chippewa's deer season began in September and many tribal hunters may have had enough of the woods. Regardless, the Chippewa should have gone to court to get judicial approval before starting the night deer hunt, he said. The move is sure to anger non-tribal hunters, he said.

"There will be those who no matter what's done will still be concerned about safety issues. (And) it's something tribal members can do that they can't do," Meyer said. "It's just extremely unfortunate it got to this stage."

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