From the Chairman
by Pat Doroff
As I write this column, we are beginning the hard water fishing season in the 1837 Treaty area. The State of Minnesota and eight Ojibwe Bands have reached a mediated settlement on how the fishery at Mille Lacs Lake will be managed and how the State will regulate non-Band member anglers.
The new five-year plan appears to be an improvement for sportfishing. I am thankful for the efforts of all concerned groups and individuals over the past few years, including the Mille Lacs Lake Advisory Association and members of the Mille Lacs Input Group. Im also positive no progress would have been made had PERM not taken an active role over the past year by supporting the work of Dick Sternberg, a former DNR biologist.
When we initiated this process last year, the DNR was implementing a new repressive 2-inch harvest slot and reduced bag limits for walleye on Mille Lacs. The situation appeared grim as the DNR announced that this restriction, in order to provide stability, would be for the next three years. Faced with a massive campaign by tribal interests for even more restrictions on sportfishing due to over-harvest, it seemed as if things could only get worse. But as a direct result of our persistent, professional effort, we have witnessed a distinct turn-around in the direction fisheries management appears to be headed at Mille Lacs.
From Sternbergs in-depth report last winter, to a legislative hearing last spring, and continued contact with DNR officials ever since, PERMs involvement has lead to some positive change. Rather than talking about even tighter slots and restrictions for anglers and penalties for overages, we now have a more reasonable slot and a more reasonable way to deal with unpredictable angler harvest levels. Please, we need your financial support to help pay for this extensive effort. (For a complete overview and analysis of the new management plan for Mille Lacs Lake, see the article by Sternberg in this issue.)
While the new plan represents an improvement at Mille Lacs, I believe there are a few unanswered questions. I am concerned that the new regulation, with a 17-28 inch protected slot, may continue to lead to an imbalance in age class structure of walleye in the lake. While anglers love the opportunity to catch larger fish, will we continue to see a decline in mid-size, eating-size, walleyes? Will we increase the risk of baitfish shortages by tilting the predator balance more toward larger fish? Only time will tell. Of course, the real test of the new DNR/tribal plan will be where the poundage of catchable walleyes is and what the corresponding safe harvest level is set. If the DNR continues to ignore their own computer models and the lakes proven productivity shown by historic harvest levels, then an unnecessary burden will continue to be placed on non-Band member anglers and the area economy.
We need to keep putting pressure on the DNR and our elected officials to insure that neither the quality of the fishery nor the interests of everyone who enjoys Mille Lacs are endangered or unduly restricted. The DNR has indicated a higher safe harvest level is appropriate, but the proof will be what number they come up with after meeting with the Bands at their technical committee meetings in the next month or so. Call the DNR, call your state representatives, let them know that you want them to keep working for the best scenario for the fishery as well as anglers.
One of, soon to be former, Governor Venturas most disheartening acts was his recent signing of Executive Order 02-10, which affirms the government-to government relationship between the State of Minnesota and Indian tribes located in the state. The decree is a setback to everyone concerned about bringing Constitutional protections to people living on Indian reservations, and everyone fearful of the ever-expanding scope of tribal power. The executive order recognizes the inherent sovereignty of Indian tribes. It orders all state agencies and departments to recognize the unique legal relationship between the State of Minnesota and Indian tribes, respect the fundamental principles that establish and maintain this relationship, and accord tribal governments the same recognition and respect accorded to other governments. You dont think this Order has any impact on you? What kind of burden does this place on the DNR when trying to deal with tribal demands in the 1837 Treaty area? This Order almost forces the DNR to roll over backward to accommodate the tribes. Just read it! (To learn more about Executive Order 02-10 and the problems it presents, see the letter sent by PERMs attorney, Randy Thompson to the Governor on this issue.)
As long as were on the subject of executive orders, we sure could use an executive order from the President of the United States legally ending the apartheid caused by special rights based on ethnic heritage in the 1837 Treaty area. The President, with a stroke of the pen, can end the Ojibwes special privileges to hunt, fish and gather in a large portion of Minnesota and Wisconsin which fall inside the old treaty boundaries. The treaty itself gives the President this power. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized it. Lets put an end to the constant social stress caused by special rights for the few. Lets do away with the enormous economic cost to state taxpayers who are forced to fund an unworkable system of natural resource management that does not treat all citizens equally. I call on our elected officials here in Minnesota, particularly our newly elected Senator Norm Coleman and Governor Tim Pawlenty, to hear the voices of your constituents and carry our message to President Bush in Washington D.C. Ask him to do whats best for our states natural resources and all citizens who live in the 1837 Treaty area. Tell him he must do what the treaty provides for him to do. In the best interests of all people, he must end special privileges based on race, ethnic heritage and social class. He must end the Ojibwes temporary privilege to hunt, fish and gather without regard to state law in the 1837 Treaty area!
Just one final reminder, we desperately need local volunteers to help out with the many events and functions we are involved with throughout the State. Please see the info on page 4 to see some of the things we have coming up and how you can help out. If you can give us some of your time, it will mean more than almost any financial contribution. A grass-roots organization cannot survive without volunteers!