Fond du Lac Band cancels moose hunt

Cloquet, Minn. — There will be no off-reservation moose hunting in northeastern Minnesota this fall.

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa decided last week to cancel its moose hunt this fall, which was set to begin Sept. 21. It was going to allow members to kill up to 25 bulls.

As a result, none of the three bands that typically hunt moose in the state – Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, and Grand Portage – will do so this fall. The state DNR earlier this year cancelled the season for state hunters.

Fond du Lac made the decision last week, said Karen Diver, the band’s chairwoman.

“Even though the tribal and state biologists agree a tribal moose hunt wouldn’t have any effect on the population, our concern remained over the lack of knowledge about why the population is declining,” Diver said.

Aerial surveys show the moose population in the northeastern part of the state has declined precipitously in recent years. The 2013 population estimate was 35 percent lower than 2012, and 52 percent lower than 2010.

DNR officials decided against a season soon after this year’s survey was complete.

“The action the state took in closing the season was primarily based on the fact that we’re in uncharted territory,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner.

Fond du Lac Band members are split on the idea of holding a season, Diver said. A committee that advises band leadership on hunting matters was split, too.

“There were some in the community that would still desire to hunt, but so far what we have heard is an understanding of why we would delay for a year,” she said.

The band on an annual basis will review whether or not to hold a season, Diver said.

The DNR in recent months had asked Fond du Lac to consider cancelling its hunt, but had little recourse when the band said it would proceed with a season. Unlike the Bois Forte and Grand Portage bands, Fond du

Lac isn’t party to an agreement under which Bois Forte and Grand Portage give up some of their off-reservation hunting and fishing rights in exchange for annual payments from the state. (Payments to each band last year exceeded $2.6 million.)

Grand Portage initially said it would hold a season this fall, but opted against it when the DNR began an arbitration process in an effort to force the band to cancel its hunt.

DNR officials say that under the agreement, the two bands can’t hold hunts if the state doesn’t. And Landwehr says it’s unlikely the state will have one in 2014.

“It would be almost impossible to imagine a population change that could compel the state to reconsider a season,” Landwehr said. “The drop has been so steep. I would love to think it could stop (falling) and bounce right back up, but nobody expects that.”

Bands frustrated

The bands have expressed frustration with the way the DNR went about cancelling this fall’s season, and say they didn’t have input on the matter.

In a letter to Landwehr, Bois Forte Chairman Norman Deschampe said the state’s decision “was done hastily, without consideration of the views of the affected Bands, and without consideration of the state’s own moose management plan.”

Landwehr says he knows the bands were “caught off guard,” but that the state had to take quick action. Additionally, the state’s moose management plan “never presumed a decline like we’ve had in the moose population,” he said.

Landwehr expects the season-setting process next year to look like it has in the past, though in all likelihood the end result will be the DNR deciding not to hold a season.
Diver expects band involvement.

“I would very much hope the discussion happens with the state,” she said. “We were very disappointed that they came to the decision (to close the season), and then announced it, and then expected the bands to be reactive to their decisions, rather than taking a co-management philosophy.”

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