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Sam Cook, Published July 28 2013

DNR objects to band’s plan to hunt moose this fall

ST. PAUL — The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa will offer an off-reservation moose hunt to its members this fall, taking up to 25 bull moose, band leaders say.

But the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has formally objected to the Fond du Lac hunt and has asked the band to reconsider its position, said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager in St. Paul.

Ferdinand Martineau, secretary-treasurer of the Fond du Lac Band, said the band considered several factors before reaching a decision to hold a moose hunt.

"We had a biologist saying we would probably take less than what are killed by cars and trucks and trains," Martineau said. "We wondered, would we have a negative impact on the herd, and they’re (biologists are) saying, no, we wouldn’t."

Some band members depend on moose meat as a part of their diet along with maple syrup, wild rice and walleyes the band nets on Mille Lacs Lake, Martineau said. Last year’s wild rice and this spring’s maple syrup harvests were poor, he said, and the band was unable to net walleyes on Mille Lacs because of the late ice-out this spring.

"That was another big chunk of protein taken out of our diet," Martineau said. "We look at the subsistence part of it. … How does it affect our band members?"

The DNR objects to the Fond du Lac moose hunt on conservation grounds, Merchant said.

"We believe the precipitous decline we’ve seen in the moose population is to the point we can’t afford to lose any more moose, that it’s a conservation issue in continuing to hunt them," Merchant said. "That’s why we asked them to reconsider their decision."

Minnesota’s moose population has been in decline since at least 2006, when an estimated 8,800 moose roamed northeastern Minnesota. The population suffered a 35 percent drop in numbers from 2012 to 2013, from an estimated 4,230 down to 2,760 animals.

The state canceled its moose hunt last fall and said it will not consider future hunts until the population recovers.

Merchant said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr has been in contact with Fond du Lac Band Chairwoman Karen Diver on the issue.

"They (the Fond du Lac Band) in turn communicated to us that they did reconsider (the moose hunt), but they found no compelling additional information to lead them to change their minds about hunting," Merchant said.

If the band moves ahead with its plan to hold a moose hunt, the DNR’s options are uncertain.

"It’s not clear what recourse we would have," Merchant said. "In my opinion, the courts are always a place those kinds of issues can be brought forth. … Whether or not we would go that route on this, I can’t comment on that."

The Fond du Lac Band and the DNR currently have no formal agreement on wildlife management issues in the ceded territory covered by the 1854 treaty.

The band plans to offer a total of 77 permits to harvest a maximum of 25 bull moose in ceded territory covered by 1854 and 1837 treaties. The season opens Sept. 21 and closes Dec. 31 or whenever the maximum harvest of 25 bulls is reached.

Meanwhile, the 1854 Treaty Authority, which manages off-reservation hunting, fishing and gathering activities of the Bois Forte and Grand Portage Chippewa bands, has not yet decided whether to offer a moose season, said Sonny Myers, executive director of the 1854 Treaty Authority.

Both of those bands, unlike Fond du Lac, have moose within the boundaries of their reservation and can hold hunts on their reservations.