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Wisconsin asks 7th Circuit to keep night deer ban

  • Article by: TODD RICHMOND
  • Associated Press
  • May 7, 2014 - 5:35 PM

MADISON, Wis. — State attorneys tried to persuade a federal appellate court Wednesday to reject a request from Wisconsin's Chippewa bands to reopen a long-settled case barring tribal hunters from hunting deer at night.

The state Department of Natural Resources has long banned night deer hunts out of safety concerns. The Chippewa, though, have pushed for years for a tribal night deer hunt in the ceded territory, a gigantic swath of northern Wisconsin the bands handed over to the federal government in the 19th century.

The tribes tried to persuade U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in 1989 to exempt tribal hunters from the state prohibition during a court battle over treaty rights in the ceded territory. Crabb ultimately ruled in 1991 that night deer hunting is dangerous and the state ban therefore applies to the tribes.

Legislators angered the Chippewa in 2012 when they allowed hunters to kill wolves at night. The tribes consider the wolf a spiritual brother.

The tribes asked Crabb to revisit her 1991 decision, arguing that circumstances have changed. They maintain that the state must believe night hunting is safe because lawmakers allowed hunters to kill wolves after dark, the DNR instituted night deer hunting programs to slow chronic wasting disease and has allowed night hunts to protect crops and prevent car-deer collisions.

Crabb rejected their arguments in December, saying the tribes failed to prove that circumstances have changed so drastically she should revisit the 1991 decision. She noted state officials did almost all the night hunting and most of it was designed to slow chronic wasting disease. Legislators also ended night wolf hunting after one season, she said.

The tribes asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago earlier this year to find that circumstances have changed and force Crabb to reopen the case.

Wisconsin's Justice Department, which is representing the DNR in the case, filed a brief with the 7th Circuit arguing that nothing has changed. The governor has used night deer hunting for specific purposes for decades, DOJ attorneys argued. The general public couldn't hunt deer at night in 1989 and still can't now, they said.

"It was reasonable for the court to conclude these circumstances did not create an inequity requiring it to reopen its judgment," the brief said.

Colette Routel, a lawyer who represents the Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and serves as one of the lead attorneys for the tribes, didn't immediately respond to an email message Wednesday afternoon.

It's unclear when the 7th Circuit might rule.

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