Published November 28, 2012, 06:00 AM

DNR's view: Wisconsin DNR will enforce shining law; hopes to work with tribes on safety

You may have heard about potential shining, or night hunting, of deer by tribal members in the Ceded Territory, which is roughly the northern third of Wisconsin.

By: Cathy Stepp, for the News Tribune

You may have heard about potential shining, or night hunting, of deer by tribal members in the Ceded Territory, which is roughly the northern third of Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources does not approve of this and does not believe it is within the authority of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. Working in conjunction with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the state filed suit last week, seeking a federal court order requiring the tribes to comply with the court’s prohibition on deer-shining and confirming the state’s right to enforce the state shining law against tribal hunters in the Ceded Territory.

Why?

We at the DNR have concerns about the short amount of time to notify the public, the circumvention of court oversight and past rulings on night hunting for deer, and public safety.

We understand the tribes’ contention that they should be allowed to hunt deer at night because a recently adopted state law permits the night hunting of wolves. We believe this is essentially the same argument the tribes unsuccessfully asserted in federal court in the 1989 “deer trial” when they argued the state’s provision for the night hunting of coyotes should allow them to hunt deer at night, too. After a weeklong trial, the court concluded that deer-shining was much more dangerous to public safety than the nighttime hunting of predators like coyotes; Judge Barbara Crabb rejected the tribes’ challenge to the state’s deer-shining law. We believe the state’s legalization of the night hunting of wolves, another predator species, changes nothing in this respect.

Importantly, even if it were legal for the tribes to hunt deer at night — which we believe it is not — we believe the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission acted with too little notice and too little consultation with the state. We have not been able to discuss many safety aspects. And we need time to be sure that people using public lands with no expectation of night deer hunting are aware of any such changes.

The DNR has diligently and in good faith implemented numerous enhanced tribal resource harvesting opportunities, including updating and increasing harvest limits for the tribal harvest of a host of species, honoring self-regulation for gathering forest products on state lands, agreeing to alternative monitoring of walleye harvest to save creel clerk expenses, youth hunt mentoring, improving mapping of the Ceded Territory in Wisconsin, and responsive and flexible state park hunting opportunities. All of these have operated almost exclusively for the tribes’ benefit. I’m proud of that record, and I believe our actions of the past give us strong credibility in addressing this issue.

I contacted Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Executive Administrator Jim Zorn and tribal leaders and respectfully asked the tribes to refrain from implementing nighttime deer hunting. And I asked that tribal members not go out shining until the federal court rules. I assured Zorn of our continuing commitment to the court-approved process for negotiating changes to our past agreements on regulatory matters. I let him know we are hopeful this does not put the tribes and state at odds with each other.

But I also informed him it is the DNR’s job to honor court decisions and directives — and to enforce laws that are in place at this time. We will do so. In the meantime, I ask that all of us — tribal members, governmental agencies and the public — work together to manage court-

affirmed hunting and gathering rights in a safe and legal manner.

Cathy Stepp is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

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