Moose hunting remains closed for Minnesotans

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Three tribes in northeast are seeking to harvest more bull moose this year

By Javier Serna
Assistant Editor Outdoor News Minnesota, September 16, 2022

Fond du Lac, Minn. — The three Ojibwe bands that have harvested moose in northeastern Minnesota intend to increase the number of animals they kill this fall.

There are three hunts this year, as there have been since the three bands – Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, and Bois Forte – reinstituted their moose hunts following a period of abstaining from the hunt that started in 2013, when the state hunt also ended.

The three bands planned to issue 120 bull moose permits this season, up from the 94 permits issued last year. Quotas are designed to cap harvest at 60 bulls this year, up from the 50 that band members could have harvested last year (the bands have fallen short of their quotas in past years).

The state of Minnesota hunt has yet to be reinstated, though the moose population apparently has stabilized, according to several annual moose estimates. Their numbers, however, remain at less than half of what they were when the estimate reached 8,800 moose in 2006.

The Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa held a lottery drawing in mid-August for 70 bull moose permits in the 1854 Ceded Territory. Last year, it issued 60 permits with a quota of 30 bull moose.

The band still intends to close the hunt if 30 bull moose are killed this fall. Otherwise, the season will run from Sept. 24 through Dec. 31.

The Fond du Lac band is no longer party to an agreement with the state of Minnesota to forego some of its hunting and gathering rights in lieu of annual cash payments, but the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa have retained that arrangement.

The two bands still party to the 1854 treaty payments both issued 25 permits each to band members. Both bands’ hunt will be shut down if members take 15 antlered moose. Last year, each band was capped at 10 harvested bulls.

Those hunts will run from Sept. 15 through Dec. 31 if the quota isn’t met.

Darren Vogt, the 1854 Treaty Authority’s Resource Management Division director, did not return calls seeking comment, nor did Seth Moore, wildlife biologist for the Grand Portage Band.

Dave Olfelt, the Minnesota DNR’s Fish and Wildlife director, said an arrangement that set up a framework for how many moose could be taken, going back to when the bands and the state both held moose hunts, needs to be updated.

“Those rules we were following when there was a season said if there is a season, the state gets half,” Olfelt said. “We don’t have that guiding framework because the state hunt isn’t a thing. Those rules don’t work anymore.”

The state has not reinstituted its limited, lottery bull moose hunt since the alarming drop in the moose population prompted the hunt to end. The bands, according to news reports, were reluctant to end the hunts, which were said by the bands to be reinstated for food and cultural reasons as well as maintaining tradition and treaty rights.

Olfelt said the DNR and bands have been working cooperatively in creating a new framework, given it’s only the bands currently that are hunting moose.

“It’s complicated because of uncertainties around the status of the herd,” Olfelt said. “We know harvest is an added pressure on that herd. How much? That is part of it. It’s complicated because we have four sovereign governments that have a say in a shared resource. That is part of the complication.”

Olfelt added that the DNR is not concerned about the slowly-increasing number of bulls the bands have declared for harvest. They’ve increased slightly for the past few years.

But he said there would be discomfort in adding another 60 to 70 animals to the harvest total via a state hunt.

There are citizens concerned about the moose hunts, although it’s safe to say they aren’t organized like many of the wolf-protectionist groups that have existed and sued to keep that species on the federal endangered species list.

That bothers people including Scott Engle, of Independence, a moose advocate and deer hunter who said he’s frustrated by the political dynamics keeping wolf numbers high enough to impact moose while that species has yet to fully recover. He called the tribal hunts “bad optics” for the bands.

“I am a hunter,” Engle said. “I would be the first guy in line to get a moose tag. But when you have a situation like now, the optics are terrible. The population has not recovered.”

Engle started a Facebook page called “Howling for Moose,” a play on the name of one of the more politically active wolf groups. He was on the DNR’s wolf management plan update committee as a moose advocate and said he was pleased with the plan highlighting “the impacts wolves have on moose.”

He said he’s given some thought to organizing a group focused on advocating for moose in Minnesota, but hasn’t acted on it beyond the Facebook page.

“It is really a situation where moose aren’t getting the advocacy that they need,” Engle said.