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Attorneys for Wisconsin's Chippewa bands tried to persuade a federal judge Thursday to let tribal hunters go after deer at night, arguing their people would have to meet tougher safety standards than night wolf hunters.

Brian Peterson, Star Tribune file

U.S. judge holds off ruling on Wis. Chippewa night deer hunt

  • Article by: TODD RICHMOND
  • Associated Press
  • December 14, 2012 - 7:21 AM

MADISON, Wis. - Attorneys for Wisconsin's Chippewa bands tried to persuade a federal judge Thursday to let tribal hunters go after deer at night, arguing their people would have to meet tougher safety standards than night wolf hunters.

The attorneys told U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb during a hearing that shining spotlights on deer is safer than shining on wolves, older wolf hunters don't have to meet any training requirements and tribal night deer hunters would have to pass a strenuous marksmanship test.

State attorneys fought back by insisting night deer hunting is far riskier than going after wolves in the dark.

Crabb has blocked the Chippewa from taking to the woods at night while she considers the two sides' arguments. She stopped short of making a decision Thursday, giving attorneys until Monday to file a final round of briefs.

The Chippewa have the right to hunt and fish within what's known as the ceded territory, a 22,400-acre swath of northern Wisconsin the tribes handed over to the federal government in the 1800s. The tribes have been running their own deer hunt in the ceded territory alongside the state's seasons for years.

State lawmakers angered the tribes earlier this year when they passed a bill creating the state's first organized wolf hunt. The legislation establishes a season that runs from Oct. 15 through the end of February and allows hunters to go after wolves at night. The Chippewa view the wolf as a brother in their culture and fought fiercely against the measure. The state's relationship with the Chippewa has deteriorated in the aftermath.

Last month a commission that oversees the Chippewa's off-reservation rights authorized tribal hunters to go after deer at night, a move that runs counter to the state Department of Natural Resources' long-standing prohibition on night deer hunting. The commission pointed out the DNR has allowed sharpshooters to kill deer at night in chronic wasting disease zones and changed the rules dramatically by allowing hunters to kill wolves at night.

The Chippewa have asked Crabb for a preliminary injunction preventing state authorities from enforcing the night deer hunting ban against tribal hunters until the bands' deer season ends Jan. 6. The judge, though, has ruled night deer hunting is dangerous and declared the ban extends to tribal hunters while she weighs the legal questions. The tribes have held off on issuing permits until the matter is resolved.

Lac Du Flambeau tribal attorney Colette Routel maneuvered DNR hunting safety expert Tim Lawhern into testifying Thursday that shining deer at night typically freezes them in place, making them easy, safe targets. Shining wolves, on the other hand, usually doesn't slow them down, he said.

Lawhern also said he believes night hunting rules should ban the practice in foggy, snowless conditions and hunters should get at least three days of training. The state's wolf hunt regulations include none of those provisions.

Red Cliff tribal attorney Milt Rosenberg pointed out state hunters born after Jan. 1, 1973, technically don't need any training to obtain a permit, implying older wolf hunters could be a danger in the woods at night.

Tribal night hunters would have to visit the hunting area in daylight, identify a safe zone of fire and pass a tribal marksmanship course to qualify for a permit, Routel added.

Tom Dosch, a state Justice Department attorney representing the DNR, used testimony from retired agency warden Charles Horn to show DNR sharpshooters had to meet tougher safety protocols when they were going after deer at night in chronic wasting disease zones in the early and mid-2000s.

But Routel got Horn to testify the procedures were never formalized until 2008, a year after the sharpshooting effort ended. Horn also acknowledged the protocols didn't' require sharpshooters to show where they would position themselves and didn't have to mark a safe fire zone.

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