Jason Sanders on Wisconsin’s Mi’ingan Hunt

Anishinaabe law student and scholar Jason Sanders has posted, “Wolves, Lone and Pack: Ojibwe Treaty Rights and the Wisconsin Wolf Hunt,” his student note forthcoming in the Wisconsin Law Review.

Here is the abstract:

In 2012, Wisconsin authorized the first state hunt of gray wolves. Wisconsin’s interest in wolf depredation is legitimate: the growth in wolf population has exponentially increased human-wolf conflicts and state expense. Yet, Wisconsin shares these wolves; 83 percent of gray wolves reside on Ojibwe reservations or on territory ceded by the Ojibwe, where the Tribes still have resource rights. The Tribes vehemently oppose the wolf hunt. The Ojibwe maintain a strong cultural kinship with wolves and have traditionally prohibited wolf hunting. The Tribes named wolves a “tribally protected species,” asserting a right to protect all the wolves shared with Wisconsin. Historically, the Tribes and the State cooperatively managed shared resources. However, the State initiated the wolf hunt despite tribal protestations, instigating the first break from cooperative management in decades. Both sovereigns have legitimate and conflicting interests and appear to risk their first major treaty rights litigation in decades.

This Comment analyzes the extent of each sovereign’s wolf rights in light of biological research and existing Indian law precedents. The first issue is the scope of the State’s obligation to respect the Tribes’ sovereign rights to protect and perpetuate reservation wolf packs. The second issue is the extent of the Tribes’ rights to protect ceded-territory wolves away from reservations. This Comment argues that the Tribes can protect and perpetuate reservation wolves as a component of inherent sovereignty. Wisconsin must implement a wolf policy that respects that sovereignty, including a hunt-free “buffer zone” of some wolf territory directly adjoining the reservation. However, the Tribes’ claim to protect all shared wolves is untenable, as tribal rights over wolves away from the reservation are much weaker. But the Tribes have rights correlated to those wolves and are entitled, at minimum, to a policy that ensures species survival; additionally, the Tribes can consider other options to protect wolves. Ultimately, this Comment proposes that both sovereigns can and should resolve this conflict through negotiation, continuing the tradition of cooperative management, and avoiding lengthy and expensive litigation.