In a complaint filed Tuesday, the tribes say the Natural Resources Board’s decision was a deliberate move to nullify the tribes’ share, failed to use “sound biological principles” in establishing the quota and is managing wolf hunting in a way that violates treaties of 1837 and 1842.
Despite the tribes’ efforts to protect their share of wolves during a court-ordered February season, hunters killed at least 218 in just three days, blowing past the quota for state-licensed hunters of 119 and exceeding the state and tribal quotas combined, which was 200 wolves. The DNR estimates another 33 were killed last year by vehicles, depredation control or poaching.
John Johnson Sr., president of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, said the DNR has a pattern of mismanaging hunts.
“The Ojibwe are accountable for everything when we hunt, fish, and gather any resources,” Johnson said in a written statement. “We’re looking out for the next seven generations of our children. When we know it’s wrong to hunt, we don’t harvest.”
A DNR spokesperson said Tuesday the agency is reviewing the complaint but had no further comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, and St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin.
Earthjustice has also sued the U.S. government on behalf of wildlife conservation organizations over the decision to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list, and last week groups representing nearly 200 tribes signed a letter demanding restoration of federal protection.
The tribes say wolves enhance and maintain healthy ecosystems, but some farmers and hunting groups say hunting is a necessary tool to control the population of predators that kill livestock and other game.
A law passed in 2011 requires the state to allow hunting from November through February whenever the gray wolf is not on the federal endangered species list.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed them from the list in January.
The DNR was preparing to hold a hunt beginning in November 2021, but a Kansas-based hunter advocacy group sued, and a Jefferson County judge ordered the department to hold a season in the final days of February, later than any previously sanctioned hunt.
DNR scientists said the unusual timing of the winter hunt, which overlapped with breeding season, made it difficult to understand the long-term impacts on the population, which was estimated to be about 1,034 wolves as of spring 2020.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Six Ojibwe tribal governments claim the statutorily-mandated hunt is a “direct assault” on their treaty rights and would compound damages from a February hunt, in which state-licensed hunters killed the tribe’s share of wolves.
The state Department of Natural Resources policy board took no action Monday after meeting in a closed session for more than an hour to discuss hiring its own attorneys in a lawsuit seeking to block the fall wolf hunt.
Circuit Court Judge Bennett J. Brantmeier also said the agency must hold a hunt immediately any time federal protections are lifted during the statutory hunting season, which runs from November through February.