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Red Lake Band opposes DNR bear hunting proposal for Northwest Angle

Creating a separate bear management unit for the Northwest Angle would give the DNR more flexibility in setting bear permit quotas for the area and hopefully provide more recreational opportunity, the agency said.

black bear.jpg
Black bear.
Contributed / Courtney Celley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Midwest Region
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RED LAKE, Minn. – The Red Lake Band of Chippewa is opposing a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources proposal to establish a new bear hunting unit on the Northwest Angle, much of which is tribally owned.

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Sarah Strommen, commissioner, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR

In a Wednesday, Feb. 23, letter to DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen, Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. outlined several concerns the tribe has with the DNR proposal.

The DNR held public meetings Wednesday, Feb. 16, at the Northwest Angle and Thursday, Feb. 17, in Warroad, Minnesota, to take comments on the plan.

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Darrell Seki, chairman, Red Lake Band of Chippewa.
Contributed photo

“As you are likely aware, approximately 80% of the land at the Northwest Angle is owned by the Red Lake Band,” Seki said in his letter to Strommen. “Additionally, many of the state parcels of land at the Northwest Angle do not have access from a public road, which necessitates the crossing of Red Lake lands in order to access the state lands. Clearly, the Band’s lands would be impacted by a state-sponsored bear hunt at the Northwest Angle. Unfortunately, many residents and visitors to the Northwest Angle do not respect the Red Lake Band’s land ownership. Without notice, our lands are regularly trespassed upon and used as a playground by nonmembers. This is not acceptable to the Red Lake Band, and a bear hunt would only exacerbate this problem.”

The DNR already offers a fall bear season at the Northwest Angle, which currently is part of Bear Management Unit 12, an area extending basically from Roseau south to the northern border of the Red Lake Indian Reservation, east nearly to Waskish, Minnesota, and back north to Baudette. The unit includes portions of Roseau, Beltrami and Lake of the Woods counties.

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The DNR offered 125 permits for BMU 12 in 2020, according to the agency’s website. As a result, bear hunters on the Northwest Angle had to apply for the same limited number of permits as hunters in the rest of the unit.

In a news release announcing the public meetings, the DNR said bear habitat on the Northwest Angle consists mainly of natural food sources, making it different from the rest of the BMU, which is 60 miles away and has an agricultural component to the habitat.

Creating a separate BMU for the Northwest Angle would give the DNR more flexibility in setting bear permit quotas for the area and hopefully provide more recreational opportunity, the agency said.

The proposed new unit would follow the same boundaries as Deer Permit Area 114.

A separate Bear Management Unit for the Northwest Angle would give the DNR more flexibility in setting bear permit quotas for the area and hopefully provide more recreational opportunity.

Seki, in his letter, also criticized the DNR for not consulting with the band before announcing its proposal, adding the Red Lake Tribal Council prohibits the hunting of bears on tribal
lands. Instead, he wrote, the band learned of the proposal through an article in the Grand Forks Herald. The agency never did post a public notice about the meetings on its website.

The bear, or Makwa, is a major tribal clan at Red Lake.

Red Lake Band of Chippewa letter.jpg
Contributed / Red Lake Band of Chippewa

“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,” Seki wrote in his letter.

The DNR proposal follows a summer in which nuisance bear problems were widespread at the Northwest Angle. The blueberry and chokecherry crops were a bust because of the summer drought, and the abundance of acorns, especially on Flag and Oak islands, attracted bears in droves.

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Dave Olfelt, director of the DNR’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, said the proposal resulted from concerns expressed by Angle residents about last summer’s bear problems. The agency also met with tribal biologists in advance of the recent public meetings to discuss the idea of a new bear management unit specific to the Northwest Angle, he said.

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Dave Olfelt, Fish and Wildlife Division director, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR

The concept remains in the proposal stage, Olfelt said, and the division hasn’t met with the commissioner’s office yet about next year’s regulations.

“We clearly understand that the (tribal) biologists are not Chair Seki, but we did have conversations with the band, and based on this letter, we’ll definitely be having more conversations with them,” Olfelt said. “It’s a serious request from a tribal government and we take it seriously.

“There will be a formal response.”

The letter opposing the DNR’s plan for a new bear hunting unit is just the latest example of tension involving recreational use on tribal-owned lands at the Northwest Angle. In January, the Red Lake Tribal Council denied a request by a Northwest Angle snowmobile club to renew an easement for access to 48 miles of snowmobile trails that cross tribal lands. As a result, the club added new trails on the ice of Lake of the Woods to replace the land trails that could no longer be groomed and maintained.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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