Tribes in Wisconsin win big decision in treaty hunting dispute

Off-reservation deer hunting zones in Wisconsin. Image from Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission

'Wisconsin tribes won a major treaty rights ruling before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, opening the door for night hunting on ceded lands.

The court did not determine whether members of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band, the Lac du Flambeau Band, the Sokaogon Chippewa Community and the Red Cliff Band can hunt deer at night. But the unanimous decision said there was no reason to stop them from doing so and placed the burden on the state to explain why they can't.

"The burden of production should be placed on the state, for as the record stands the evidence presented by the tribes that night hunting for deer in the ceded territory is unlikely to create a serious safety problem," the decision stated.

Tribal members can already hunt deer at night on their reservations. The court noted that their safety record is "sterling" -- there have been only two or three accidents on ceded lands since 1989.

The state also engages in night hunting in order to address an explosion of the deer population and to control chronic wasting disease, a fatal disease among deer. The court noted that there have been no safety issues associated with the practice.

"The tribes’ argument is that the state’s greater experience with night hunting of deer since the 1991 judgment shows that it is safer than had been believed—so safe indeed that, given sensible regulations governing such hunting, there is no reason to prohibit the tribes’ members from engaging in such hunting on ceded territory," the court wrote.

Tribal leaders and their attorneys are still reviewing the decision and night hunting will not happen overnight. But Lac du Flambeau President Tom Maulson welcomed the ruling and said tribes will work with the state and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission on the best way to move forward.

“This is a tremendous victory for Lac du Flambeau and all of the Chippewa tribes in Wisconsin,” Maulson said today. “It has been clearly demonstrated in states such as Minnesota and Michigan, and even here in Wisconsin, that night hunting can be done safely and without threat of harm to the natural resources."

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Lac Courte Oreilles Band v. Wisconsin. Audio from the oral arguments can be found on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud.

Get the Story:
Court orders tribal night deer case re-opened (AP 10/10)

7th Circuit Decision:
Lac Courte Oreilles Band v. Wisconsin (October 9, 2014)

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7th Circuit sets oral arguments in Ojibwe night hunting lawsuit (08/06)
Wisconsin tribes ask 7th Circuit to hear treaty hunting dispute (5/8)

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