In a case linked to a controversial wolf hunt and with possible repercussions in Minnesota, the state of Wisconsin filed suit Wednesday seeking to block plans by six Chippewa bands to hunt deer at night across the northern third of the state.
A committee of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission authorized tribal hunters Wednesday to hunt deer at night using a light "at the point of kill,'' said Sue Erickson, spokeswoman for the commission.
That's illegal under Wisconsin law.
However, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is allowing night hunting of wolves starting Monday -- the same day the bands propose to begin hunting deer at night. The DNR rule says hunters can use a light while shooting at a wolf at the point of kill.
"The DNR said it's safe to have hunters in the woods at night hunting wolves and using a light at the point of kill,'' said Erickson. "The tribes are simply instituting the same thing.''
Chippewa bands in Wisconsin and Minnesota opposed inaugural wolf hunting and trapping seasons this fall in both states. Erickson said the action by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission to open night deer hunting doesn't affect Minnesota. But the commission represents two Minnesota bands, Mille Lacs and Fond du Lac, both of which have off-reservation hunting and fishing rights in ceded territories.
The Wisconsin DNR filed a federal suit Wednesday asking the court to require the bands to comply with prohibition on "deer shining" -- the taking of deer with a light -- and confirming the state's right to enforce the law against tribal hunters in the ceded territory.
"We have concerns about the short amount of time to notify the public, the circumvention of court oversight and past rulings on night hunting for deer, and public safety,'' DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said in a statement.
"We really believe this is not something they have the authority to do," Stepp told the Associated Press. "This is one of those issues ... we need to push back on."
Stepp warned outdoor recreationists to take "proper precautions'' if the night hunting begins on Monday.
Erickson said each of the state's six Chippewa bands must approve the plan before its members can take part, but said that could occur before Monday.
Under treaties signed in the early 1800s, the Chippewa ceded 22,400 square miles across northern Wisconsin to the government.
A federal court ruling in 1991 found that the tribes have the right to harvest at least 50 percent of the quota for any animal hunted in that territory.
Backed by the court ruling, the bands run their own deer hunt in the ceded territory independent of the state's bow and firearm seasons. The tribal season generally runs from late August until early January.
Tensions have been high between the DNR and the commission since September, when the commission authorized a tribal elk hunt despite DNR contentions that the group had to reach a consensus with the agency first.
Stepp said the commission and the DNR have been talking about possibly allowing tribal members to hunt deer at night, but Stepp said the commission abruptly chose to act on its own.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Doug Smith • 612-673-7667