Are state 'leaders' giving away state resources and state control?
By Joe Fellegy – Outdoor News, March 29, 2013

They better do it soon. From moose and wolves to walleyes and Legacy land acquisitions, state government folks must level with their constituents. Just who's got rights to the fish, wildlife, and other natural resources within Minnesota's borders? And where do state management authority and legal clout begin and end? Citizen-taxpayers and license-buyers deserve answers.

Midst news of declining moose populations, Minnesotans learned about separate tribal moose harvests and related tribal management. Not often mentioned in current capitol wolf-hunt debates is how state wolf-management authority is challenged by tribal governments. Last October the White Earth Tribal Council formally proclaimed that "all lands" (not just tribal-owned lands) within the exterior boundaries of the White Earth Reservation would become a wolf sanctuary, with no hunting, trapping, or possession of wolves permitted by any person, Indian or non-Indian. The White Earth Reservation covers more than 1,000 square miles of Minnesota, including all of Mahnomen County and parts of Becker and Clearwater counties.

Similarly, the Leech Lake Band government, working with the Leech Lake Legal Department and the Band's Division of Resources Management, passed a 2012 resolution authorizing tribal government "to take any and all action to prevent the harvesting or taking of the gray wolf by any individual for any purpose within the exterior boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation." That reservation covers nearly 1,000 square miles of Cass, Itasca, Beltrami, and Hubbard counties.

Especially noteworthy is the detailed Oct. 31, 2012 Fond du Lac Band (FDL) wolf-protection ordinance, obviously crafted by a savvy legal team drawing on many aspects of modern Indian law attaching to reservations, trust land, and the vast treaty-ceded territories with tribal harvest and management rights. Violators could face $1,000 fines plus seizure of vehicles and firearms.

Of special interest to Indian law wonks is Section 102, part (l), in the ordinance's Chapter 1: "The Fond du Lac Band retains its inherent authority, as affirmed under federal common law, to protect those interests which affect the Band's health, welfare, economic security, and political integrity on all lands" (not just tribal-owned lands) within the reservation." This gets at ever-evolving Indian law and how tribal authority might triumph over state control when certain tribal interests are considered threatened.

Rep. Kahn's Legacy Committee

Democratic Chairperson Rep. Phyllis Kahn and cohorts on the House Legacy Committee should not overrule the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council's recommendation against Fond du Lac Band’s proposal to purchase 400 acres within the FDL Reservation. Rep. Kahn, Legacy Committee members, and those LSOHC members who favor funding the Fond du Lac request should have to detail relevant law plus all state and citizen interests that could be impacted. It’s worrisome when a legislator like Denny McNamara (R) suggests it's no big deal, that an Indian tribe is just another group, like a county. Really?

By the way, Fond du Lac Band government recently purchased Spirit Island in the St. Louis River, which connects to Lake Superior. If gotten into federal trust status, a ton of law impacting the tribal-state-federal jurisdictional balance kicks in.


The state's biggest ongoing fish story—the epic Mille Lacs hassle that grows more intolerable by the day—features a major Minnesota resource, the state's largest fishery, where 50 percent of allowable harvests of pike and perch, and a disproportionately huge share of the walleye take, are off-limits to Minnesotans! And state management authority, apparently emasculated, is stuck at 50 percent, or less! Symbolic of state leadership's lack of resolve to defend state and citizen interests, Ed Boggess, head of DNR’s Fish & Wildlife Division, proclaimed last year that his (and the State's) "hands are tied."

The power of tribal management and the horrendous playing-out of "treaty rights" was driven home last week when six Chippewa Bands declared (!) higher spring walleye-spearing takes in Wisconsin's portion of the 1837 ceded territory. One dramatic result: the number of northern Wisconsin lakes where state-licensed anglers face a one-walleye bag limit rises from 10 lakes to 197 lakes! In Minnesota’s 1837 ceded territory Mille Lacs gets the attention. But tribal harvest privileges, management authority, and lots of law apply to millions of ceded-territory acres. Who knows what the future could bring?

What’s known is that the tribal side—the modern Indian Industry, as the late Red Laker and journalist Bill Lawrence called i--is deep into law and maximizing its power. Meanwhile, from DNR's Aitkin Area Fisheries office to DNR headquarters in St. Paul, there's no comparable intensity. When pushed they might mention one go-to attorney, a certain Dave Iverson in Lori Swanson's Attorney General's Office.

This passive go-with-the-flow attitude, no matter how extreme the consequences, has many in the outdoors community increasingly distrustful, and even scornful, towards state government.

Dave Zentner

Last week's Joe Albert feature about conservationist Dave Zentner becoming the much-deserved Outdoor News Man of the Year reminded me of Dave as affable conversationalist and humorist--surely a plus when doing outdoors-related politics. I've enjoyed a few good chats with Dave, especially during the run-up to the 2008 Legacy Amendment vote.

Dave was a University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) Bulldog in the 1950s, while I was a Johnny in the 1960s. Back then UMD athletic teams, now in NCAA Division II, competed in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) with St. John's, Concordia (Moorhead), St. Olaf, and others. Dave reminisced about the old outdoor hockey rink at Collegeville, and how his poor Bulldog ears almost ruptured from the boos, cheers, heckling, and yelling by noisy St. John's fans who ringed the rink.

I'd kid Dave about my pulling limits of crappies through the ice within walking distance of St. John's classrooms—and about the unforgettable 60-6 Johnny football victory over the Bulldogs in 1963.

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