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Ojibwe tribes sue Wisconsin over wolf hunt, claim treaty violations

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Six Native American tribes have asked a federal court to block Wisconsin’s Nov. 6 wolf hunt, saying the state is violating tribal rights.

Under 19th-century treaties, the tribes retain rights to half of any wolves killed in territory they ceded to the United States. But rather than hunt wolves, the tribes want to protect them.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources policy board approved a quota of 300 wolves for the fall hunt, more than twice the number recommended by DNR wildlife officials.

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 federal lawsuit comes three weeks after a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups sued in state court to stop this fall’s hunt and void a state law mandating wolf hunting, arguing that the statutes don’t give wildlife managers any leeway to consider population estimates.

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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