Last Thursday, Anishinaabe elder Joe Rose of the Bad River Band addressed a press conference at the WI State Capitol. He traveled 250 miles from the shores of Lake Superior to protest the passage of a highly controversial mining bill that opens the door to a huge, open pit mine project that will likely destroy the entire Bad River watershed and the vast wild rice beds that grow within it.
Rose gave a short lecture on the creation story and history of his people in the region. He highlighted the relationship between wolves (Ma’iingan) and people in the Anishinaabe creation story. The two were created as brothers and traveled together all over the Earth, giving names to everything. The Creator then sent them on their separate ways, but told them that whatever happened to one would happen to the other.
On Friday, the day after passage of the mining bill that would devastate the Bad River and Red Cliff Bands, Republican assembly members released another bill assaulting Anishinaabe culture, resources and treaty rights: AB 502, the “Wolf Management Bill.”
On December 28, 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the Gray Wolf from the endangered species list in the Western Great Lakes region that includes Wisconsin. Less than a month later, Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder had a bill written and introduced that establishes a wolf hunting and trapping season in the state. Republican lawmakers in Minnesota are unveiling a similar bill this week.
Three other states currently permit a limited “harvest” of wolves. Alaska, Idaho, and Montana, all allow for limited wolf hunting by the public, but none have laws as far-ranging and permissive as AB 502. If passed as written, this bill would allow for people to trap wolves with cable restraints and leg hold traps. These are traps that keep the animal alive. The hunter would be permitted to kill the trapped animal any way they choose, including clubbing. It also allows for people to use pack dogs to hunt wolves as they do in bear hunting, and permits people to hunt wolves at night using flashlights and night vision goggles.
While raising the specter of wolves running rampant throughout northern Wisconsin threatening farmers and family pets, Scott Suder made it clear that this bill was about getting out from under US Fish and Wildlife regulations. He said, “We need this to protect ourselves from the feds and to make sure people are secure in their homes.” He added, “We don’t want to give people who are going to sue on the federal level any ammunition or excuse to further their suit.”
The Bear Hunter Association testified in favor of the bill with unimaginable hyperbole. Their spokesman said, “I can’t state it enough – this is a state’s rights bill… There are no coyotes left. There are no deer left. There are only wolves." He said this after a former DNR wildlife biologist testified that the Wisconsin deer population is around 1.3 million, the coyote population is 20,000 while there are only about 800 wolves in the state, up from 14 in 1985.
Scott Walker’s Department of Natural Resources sent an administrator and a lawyer to testify, though they weren’t able to answer the questions committee members had about wolves. The wildlife biologist who is in charge of the wolf program was not in attendance. However, two of his former colleagues, now retired, were there. Randy Jurewicz and Dick Thiel, decades-long veteran wildlife biologists and the people who literally wrote the book on wolves in Wisconsin, testified against provisions in the bill that allow dog hunting and that base harvest goals on numerical quotas.
Jurewicz called hunting wolves with dogs “trouble” and “a terrible idea.” “Biologically, if you start chasing wolves with dogs, you are essentially declaring war between the species. You’d be causing more problems with pets and wolves in the long run,” he said.
He also explained that part of Wisconsin bear hunting law allows for the use of endangered species funds to pay bear hunters for the loss of their dogs to injury while hunting. These funds are raised by people buying special wolf and badger license plates. Of the $1 million paid out to Wisconsinites for reimbursement for predator loss of livestock and pets, $400,000 went to bear hunters who use dogs to tree bears so they can shoot them like fish in a barrel.
One person received $10,000 in one year for the loss of four of his hunting dogs. Jurewicz strongly cautioned the committee against using endangered species funds for this purpose or people would stop paying into it. Later, Dick Thiel asked the question, “Why is the Wisconsin legislature indemnifying bear hunters and others who hunt with dogs?”
Since the bill was only five days old, may people who might have an interest in it were not able to attend the hearing in person. In her testimony, Barbara With objected to both the content of the bill and the rushed process with which it is being pushed through committee. She linked her objections to a RICO complaint filed against the Wisconsin GOP last year alleging election, judicial, legislative and media fraud.
James Zorn, Executive Administrator of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, submitted written testimony to the committee. GLFWC was formed in 1984 as an agency of eleven Anishinaabe nations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, who retain off-reservation treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather in treaty-ceded lands. It exercises powers delegated by its member tribes.
The sovereign tribes of northern Wisconsin have been sidelined in legislative and administrative process under Scott Walker’s regime. GLIFWC is specifically organized to co-manage natural resources with the DNR, and yet they have been locked out of several processes whose end results will deeply affect the tribes. In his testimony, Zorn said, “I would urge the legislature to talk with the tribes directly on a government-to-government basis as well as under the auspices of the Lac Courte Oreilles v. Wisconsin case, commonly known as the Voigt case.”
He further stated, “The State does not have unfettered discretion to exercise its management prerogatives to the detriment of the tribes’ treaty reserved rights in ways that would be contrary to the requirements of the Lac Courte Oreilles v. Wisconsin case.” Perhaps this is what retired biologist Dick Thiel was referring to when he said, “Don't underestimate the people who oppose wolf hunting with dogs. They will tie this bill up in state and fed court for years to come.”
Zorn echoed Joe Rose’s earlier comments about the interrelated fates of the wolf and his people. He said, “The health and survival of Anishinaabe people is tied to that of Ma’iingan. We can do no less than to fully support efforts to protect, promote acceptance, and ensure healthy and abundant populations of wolves for it is our own future that we are also considering.”
Rebecca Kemble is an Anthropologist who studied decolonization in Kenya. She serves on the Board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and as the President of the Dane County TimeBank.