Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Chippewa tribes threaten to shoot a bull elk Sept. 13

Dean BortzIf you saw the news story on the main page of the web site, you already know that the state's six Chippewa tribes say they intend to allow one tribal member to shoot a bull elk on Thursday, Sept. 13. The DNR had expressed its concern and consternation to the tribes for days leading up to Tuesday, Sept. 11, when the tribes' intent became more widely known. On the afternoon or early evening of Sept. 11, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp sent the following letter to Jim Zorn, executive director of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

In her letter to Zorn and GLIFWC, Stepp wrote:

I write to you today to express deep concern and disappointment about your premature and unilateral decision sanctioning the taking of a wild elk.

The Department is aware that the Voigt Intertribal Task Force (Task Force) and Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) have  authorized the issuance of a ceremonial harvest permit on behalf of the Ojibwe bands (the Tribes) for a bull elk this year, which will be issued shortly to accommodate an anticipated harvest later this week.  I am deeply troubled by the lack of consultation and consensus building regarding the issuance of this ceremonial permit. We believe that this issuance may not be consistent with the letter of the Voigt case (Lac Courte Oreilles Indians v. State of Wis., 775 F. Supp. 321(W.D. Wis. 1991). I am also concerned about the unique safety issues that such a harvest presents, as well as the potential biological implications. Accordingly, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR or Department) does not condone or agree with the issuance of this ceremonial harvest permit.

While we are aware that the Tribes have expressed interest in a potential ceremonial harvest of elk through the Department's Elk Committee, the Department was not appraised of or given the opportunity to consult regarding such a harvest for this year. In a memo dated July 12, 2012 from GLIFWC Biologist Jonathan Gilbert to the Task Force, he stated:

Elk management continues to be a success story for tribal co-management activities with the Wisconsin DNR. We approach decision making in a consensus fashion and have been successful thus far in reaching consensus in all management decisions. It is my hope that this will continue.

The unilateral action taken by the Task Force does not represent any sort of consensus-based decision making, and does not provide the Department any time to discuss the issue with the Task Force, or to adequately inform the public who will be out in the area over the coming week.

I am also concerned that, while the Task force has apparently agreed to utilize the substantially similar terms in place for the ceremonial harvest of deer under the Off Reservation Model Code (the Code), there is currently  no stipulation or agreement with regard to elk, nor has there been discussion of when harvest of this still recovering species should begin.  In addition to the ceremonial taking of elk being at best tenuous under the Voigt stipulations, this action is a setback for the State-Tribal relationship and partnership on elk that has been steadily improving over the years. This relationship is most recently reflected in the significant tribal involvement in the State's "Elk Management Plan," which this unilateral action by the Task Force appears to directly conflict with in terms of building a trusting partnership for management of elk.

Finally, I have serious concerns related to the unique health and safety issues that this harvest presents to the State. As you know, this is a species for which there was no harvest in recent memory, and so therefore the public's awareness of and preparation for measures to ensure the safety of folks in the woods is significantly reduced. We intend to pull our wildlife staff and volunteers who would normally be out in the Clam Lake area engaging in "elk calls" and other herd monitoring activities to ensure that no unintended accidents occur. Additionally, we are concerned that the shooting of an established bull could disrupt harems and breeding patterns.

As you know, the State has a management responsibility as it relates to Tribal harvest in the exercise of their usufructuary treaty rights for all species, including elk, and we will continue to consult with the Tribes in hopes of coming to consensus on how to proceed with any potential regulations governing a future Tribal harvest of elk. However, in the interim, I am deeply concerned regarding the lack of consultation and communication on the proposed ceremonial harvest of elk this fall, and the Tribe proceeds at its own risk in moving forward.

It had been my hope that the first harvest of elk in Wisconsin – after its long absence – could have been celebrated together.  I am saddened that the opportunity to demonstrate cooperation and shared purpose will be lost if the Tribes move forward with this decision.

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