Our view: Move ahead with bear hunt, but be sure to listen to tribe’s concerns first
The DNR reports that the past year saw widespread nuisance bear problems at the Angle. Seeking food during 2021’s drought, bears flocked there in great numbers. But the Red Lake Band of Chippewa opposes the idea, saying the creation of a new hunting unit will infringe on their property rights – about 80% of the Angle is tribally owned – and also that the DNR didn’t discuss the idea with tribal leaders before moving ahead with the plan.
A proposed change to a bear hunting unit in northwest Minnesota has drawn disapproval from a nearby Native American tribe.
Here’s the plan, as outlined from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: Create a separate bear management unit for the Northwest Angle, allowing for more flexibility in setting permit quotas and, at the same time, more recreational opportunity.
At present, the DNR offers a bear season at the Angle, which is in Bear Management Unit 12, an area that roughly extends from Roseau south to the northern border of the Red Lake Indian Reservation, east nearly to Waskish, Minnesota, and north to Baudette.
The DNR reports that the past year saw widespread nuisance bear problems at the Angle. Seeking food during 2021’s drought, bears flocked there in great numbers.
But the Red Lake Band of Chippewa opposes the idea, saying the creation of a new hunting unit will infringe on their property rights – about 80% of the Angle is tribally owned – and also that the DNR didn’t discuss the idea with tribal leaders before moving ahead with the plan.
“Because there are relatively few lands at the Northwest Angle that are available for a state bear hunt, and because many of those lands have access problems which will likely result in the unauthorized use of tribal lands by nonmembers without notice to the Red Lake Band, the Red Lake Tribal Council opposes a bear hunt at the Northwest Angle,” tribal Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. said last month in a letter to the DNR.
While we acknowledge Seki’s concerns, the expanded bear unit does make sense, and especially in the wake of greater bear numbers in the area due to the drought.
We believe it because:
● It’s not a new bear season, but rather a reorganization of management units. Hunters have been taking bears in that area for decades.
● The proposal to create a separate management unit for the Northwest Angle would allow the DNR more leeway in setting permit numbers in that area, which is a unique environment that differs from other units – even those that are nearby.
● The bears that are coming to the Angle most likely are coming south from Canada. These probably are not bears that are considered part of Minnesota’s native population.
● It’s unlikely the reorganization would prompt an influx of hunters at the Angle. Permits still would be regulated and laws that oversee transporting firearms across the U.S.-Canada border probably will dissuade many from participating in the hunt.
● Hunting on tribal lands is not part of the DNR’s proposal. Nothing will change with existing laws that prohibit taking bears on tribal property.
● It’s still just a proposal. The DNR has not yet made a final decision.
That leaves one issue: The apparent lack of a heads-up from the DNR to the Red Lake band that this proposal was being considered. As reported last week by the Grand Forks Herald, Seki said he didn’t know anything about it until he saw the DNR’s proposal in an earlier Herald report. If that’s indeed the case, it’s unfortunate.
It hints at a disconnect between the state, the residents of the area and the tribe. More communication should have occurred in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the proposal. And now that the proposal is public and has obviously upset Seki and others in the Red Lake band, communication must occur – perhaps a public forum or summit? – before a final decision is made.
Since it’s a reorganization of a unit near the reservation, the tribe must be heard and its input must be considered. Only then should a decision be made.