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Wisconsin Chippewa to judge: night deer hunting is safe

  • Article by: TODD RICHMOND
  • Associated Press
  • November 27, 2012 - 6:20 PM

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin's Chippewa tribes tried to persuade a federal judge Tuesday to allow tribal hunters to kill deer after dark, arguing the state has suddenly allowed night wolf hunting and tribal hunters are entitled to similar opportunities.

The commission that oversees the Chippewa's off-reservation rights last week quietly authorized tribal hunters to take deer at night across northern Wisconsin. The state Department of Natural Resources, which has outlawed night deer hunting out of safety concerns, balked.

A bitter legal battle has ensued between the DNR and the Chippewa. The state agency has asked U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb to rule the state's prohibition on night deer hunting clearly extends to the tribes. The Chippewa responded Tuesday with a motion asking Crabb to issue a temporary restraining order barring the DNR from enforcing the ban on tribal members. Crabb has set a status conference for Wednesday.

"(The DNR's) concerns are meritless and discriminatory, and the state's refusal to consent to the change in tribal laws is therefore unreasonable," the filing said.

DNR officials had no immediate response.

Treaties the Chippewa signed in the 1800s ceding 22,400 acres across northern Wisconsin to the government guarantees the tribes the right to hunt and fish as they see fit on that land. They've been running their own deer hunts in the territory for years.

Two decades ago, the tribes tried to convince Crabb during federal cases clarifying tribal harvest rights that they should be allowed to hunt deer at night. The tribes argued the state allows night fox and coyote hunting, but the judge found shooting deer in the dark with larger bullets and at higher angles presents a serious safety risk.

She ruled the state's prohibition on the practice extended to tribal hunters. The tribes worked the ban into their off-reservation codes.

Relations between the state and the Chippewa have frayed over the last year. The first problems surfaced this past spring when lawmakers tried to pass a bill loosening mining standards to help a Florida-based company open a giant iron mine south of Lake Superior. The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa feared the mine would pollute local waters and jeopardize their rice beds.

The bill never passed, but legislators angered the tribes again when they passed a bill establishing Wisconsin's first organized wolf hunt. The Chippewa consider the wolf a brother and fought fiercely against the hunt. In September, the tribal commission authorized tribal hunters to kill an elk, a species the DNR has been working to re-introduce for nearly 20 years.

Now the tribes want to hunt deer at night.

They say the wolf hunt has changed everything: Since hunters can use large-caliber bullets to kill wolves in the dark, the DNR can no longer argue about using larger bullets to kill deer at night is too dangerous, they say.

The tribal commission and the DNR have been negotiating over night deer hunting for months, according to the filing. At first, agency officials didn't oppose the idea, but later asked the tribes to hold off for a year to avoid negative publicity. But as things drew to a head, DNR finally raised safety concerns, the filing said.

The tribes countered in the filing that their hunters must meet stringent safety standards to get a night permit, including getting firearms training from their tribe, completing an advanced hunter safety course, shining lights at deer only at the point of kill and identifying a clear field of fire during the day. The safety requirements are tougher than standards DNR sharpshooters must meet before they kill deer at night in areas infected with chronic wasting disease, the tribes added.

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