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Wisconsin tribes sue to stop November wolf hunt

Six bands said their federal treaty rights are being violated by the state Natural Resources Board.

FILE: wolf
A gray wolf. Six Wisconsin Native American bands on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, filed a federal lawsuit to stop Wisconsin's planned November wolf hunt. Contributed / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Six Native Americans bands filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday seeking court action to stop the state of Wisconsin’s wolf hunt planned for November.

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, the Sokaogon Chippewa Community and St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin all are listed as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit was filed against the DNR commissioner and all members of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board by the group Earthjustice on behalf of the bands. The suit alleges the November hunt was approved against the wishes of the tribes and in violation of federal treaty rights.

Last month Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board approved a quota of 300 wolves for the upcoming November hunt, more than double the quota of 130 proposed by the Department of Natural Resources.



“To the Anishinaabe, the Ma’iingan (wolves) are our brothers. The legends and stories tell us as brothers we walk hand in hand together. What happens to the Ma’iingan happens to humanity,” said Marvin Defoe, a Red Cliff band member.

Tribal officials also asked the state not to hunt wolves this past February when hunters and trappers killed 216 wolves in less than three days, 82% above the quota of 119 wolves set by the DNR. That total harvest during the February court-ordered wolf season means hunters and trappers killed nearly 20% of Wisconsin's estimated total wolf population of about 1,100 in less than 72 hours.

Montana and Idaho also have aggressive wolf-killing policies. Minnesota so far has delayed any action on wolf hunting or trapping until at least 2022.

“In our treaty rights, we’re supposed to share with the state 50-50 in our resources and we’re feeling that we’re not getting our due diligence because of the slaughter of wolves in February,” John Johnson, Sr., president of Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said in a statement. Wisconsin “hunters are petitioning the courts just so they can hunt, not to protect the resources. The Ojibwe are accountable for everything when we hunt, fish and gather any resources. …”

“The Ojibwe understand that a healthy wolf population is critical to a healthy ecosystem. The bands have asserted their treaty-protected rights to their share of the wolves to ensure that a healthy wolf population is protected in Wisconsin,” Gussie Lord, Earthjustice attorney, said in a statement. “The state trampled the tribes’ rights, and we are in court today to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The 44-page lawsuit comes just days after eight groups representing some 200 Native American tribes asked U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to immediately relist wolves as an endangered species across most of the U.S., saying several states have been too aggressive in hunting and trapping the animal.

The new lawsuit accompanies an existing challenge by Earthjustice to the Trump administration’s decision to remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made its decision against the advice of scientists who say wolves are still functionally extinct in the vast majority of the places they once inhabited and need continued federal protections in order to survive and recover.

The Trump administration in January removed the final protections for wolves in the Great Lakes and some other areas of the U.S. allowing states to take control of the species. Several groups have filed suit against that action with a court hearing set for November in California.


John Myers reports on the outdoors, environment and natural resources for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jmyers@duluthnews.com .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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