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Tribes ask federal court to halt November wolf hunt; claim 'direct assault' on treaty rights
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Tribes ask federal court to halt November wolf hunt; claim 'direct assault' on treaty rights

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Gray wolf

Ojibwe tribes are asking a federal court to block Wisconsin's fall wolf hunt, scheduled to start Nov. 6.

Native American tribes that sued the state of Wisconsin over wolf hunting regulations are now asking a federal court to temporarily halt the upcoming hunt.

Six Ojibwe tribal governments claim the statutorily mandated hunt, scheduled to start Nov. 6, 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 tribes filed a request Friday for an injunction to stop the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from issuing licenses while the court considers a lawsuit the tribes filed last month.

A court hearing on the request has been set for Oct. 29. The state has until Oct. 22 to respond.

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 Natural Resources Board approved a quota of 300 wolves for the fall hunt, more than twice the number recommended by DNR wildlife officials.

“Indeed, infringing on the tribal treaty share was the express stated purpose of several of the Defendants on the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board when they established the quota for the November hunt,” the tribes wrote in support of their injunction request.

In a memo to the board, the agency said it would assess whether to adjust that quota. The tribes believe that would prompt another legal challenge that could result in a rushed, court-ordered hunt like the one in February, when state-licensed hunters killed at least 218 wolves in three days, more than the state and tribal quotas combined.

A DNR spokesperson declined to comment on the injunction request or say when the agency plans to issue licenses.

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.

“This case is about Wisconsin’s responsibility to protect and conserve the natural resources we all share,” Gussie Lord, managing attorney of Earthjustice’s Tribal Partnerships program, said in a statement announcing the injunction request. “Wisconsin does not have exclusive rights here.”

In their lawsuit, 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.

Earthjustice has also sued the U.S. government on behalf of wildlife conservation organizations over the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list in January, and last week groups representing nearly 200 tribes signed a letter demanding restoration of federal protection.

A coalition of wildlife advocacy groups has also sued in state court to stop the fall hunt and void the 2011 law requiring the state to allow hunting from November through February whenever the gray wolf is not on the federal endangered species list.

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.


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