Legislator: Mille Lacs issues bound for D.C.

Editor

St. Paul A state legislator intends to travel to Washington D.C.
this summer to air concerns with the White House about the 1837
Treaty and the effects the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling has had
on fisheries management on Lake Mille Lacs.

Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said she intends to meet with
officials from the U.S. Department of Interior as well as the
Environmental Protection Agency to discuss several jurisdictional
issues affecting the Mille Lacs area. While there, she also wants
to meet with staffers of President George W. Bush to discuss
“whether or not it is the will of him to allow this to
continue.”

“This” is the continued sharing of walleye harvest between state
anglers and tribal gill netters from eight Minnesota and Wisconsin
Ojibwe Indian bands on Lake Mille Lacs. Public discontent with the
restrictions that co-management has placed upon state anglers has
increased recently since the DNR tightened the walleye slot for the
big lake earlier this month.

Erickson said she specifically wants to discuss one paragraph
within the Supreme Court’s 5-4 majority opinion that affirmed the
Ojibwe privileges in the 1837 Territory.

In that paragraph, Justice Sandra Day O’Conner writes that the
majority of the Supreme Court did not believe an 1850 order from
then-President Zachary Taylor was effective in revoking the hunting
and fishing rights of the Ojibwe. That order was not severable, the
Court wrote, from an invalid removal order Taylor had issued. The
opinion clarified, however, that it was not addressing future
presidential orders.

“We do not mean to suggest that a president, now or in the
future, cannot revoke the Chippewa usufructory rights in accordance
with the 1837 Treaty,” the court wrote.

The 1837 Treaty states that the Ojibwe hunting, fishing and
gathering rights exist at “at the pleasure of the president.”
Erickson said several people in the Mille Lacs area have brought
that point to her attention and she intends to convey that message
to the White House.

“It’s out there for discussion.”

Area meeting

Last week, Erickson held a meeting of Mille Lacs Lake Advisory
Committee members, area resorters, and other citizens with an
interest in Mille Lacs to gather comments about the new walleye
slot limit and its effects on businesses and fishing.

Seventy-five people attended the meeting at the Onamia High
School, and several recorded testimony. A consistent theme among
those who commented was a desire to eliminate the confusion and
“turmoil” that looms over Mille Lacs walleye regulations every
year, she said.

“Many people strongly believe the lake is being managed as a
treaty fishery, not a biological fishery,” she said.

Other concerns included whether or not changes can occur with
the treaty fishing protocols, and DNR Fisheries’ ability to
accurately assess the walleyes in Lake Mille Lacs.

On Monday, Erickson attended a face-to-face meeting with the DNR
that Rep. Mark Holsten, R-Stillwater, had organized. In addition to
Holsten and Erickson, Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, and Environment
Finance Committee Administrator Dave Chura attended. Attending from
the DNR were legislative liaison Michelle Beeman, DNR Assistant
Commissioner for Operations Brad Moore, and DNR Fisheries Research
Manager Jack Wingate.

Moore said the DNR spent much of the meeting explaining the
treaty protocols and how the agency devised the current slot limit.
The DNR also responded to some of Erickson’s concerns that the
state has not advocated strongly enough for anglers and businesses
in its fishery negotiations with the bands.

The DNR maintains that it has “fought hard” on several fronts in
dealing with the bands, Moore said. As an example, he noted that
the bands have advocated for an 18-percent safe harvest rate for
walleyes on Mille Lacs, while the state has maintained a 24-percent
harvest rate.

Moore called the conversation “a good meeting” and said the
agency left Erickson with the message that it intends to work with
her in addressing the public’s concerns with Mille Lacs
management.

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