The point addressed by Tim Spielman’s “Why the Crickets?” (Streams of Thought column, Sept. 1, 2023, Outdoor News) (Below) is one PERM confronts in all our letters, emails, web posts, and social media. Spielman asks: Where are our public-lands advocates? Why are they largely silent when the [public lands transfer] topic turns tribal? His commentary should be read by everyone concerned about equal protection of the law for ALL Minnesotans.
By Tim Spielman, Editor Minnesota Outdoor News 09-01-23
WHY THE CRICKETS? Nearly every major conservation group that’s known by readers of this publication includes access to public lands – for hunting, fishing, and otherwise – as a priority. And well they should. The future of these important endeavors depends upon those who partake, and those who partake need places in which to partake. Simple.
So today I ask, why is it the groups that promote public lands are largely silent when the topic turns tribal?
Taken individually, the occurrences of this year might seem trivial. Taken collectively, maybe it’s time we question what we as state hunters and anglers stand to lose.
Consider the exhibits: The Legislature this year, with the blessing of the state DNR and governor’s office, approved the transfer of ownership of Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Upper Sioux Community in southern Minnesota. Currently, DNR staff are conducting open houses to gather ideas regarding replacement of those lost park acres.
In February, the University of Minnesota announced intentions to “return to the (Fond du Lac) Band the approximately 3,400 acres that house the Cloquet Forestry Center” – which, it should be noted, is on FdL reservation land.
In March, Outdoor News reported that Red Lake Nation is seeking to restore reservation boundaries to fully include Upper Red Lake. This, just years after RLN and the state DNR collaborated to accomplish one of the greatest walleye-recovery projects in state history. In May, the Detroit Lakes Tribune’s Nathan Bowe wrote that White Earth Nation chairman Micheal Fairbanks, during a “state of the nation” address, suggested Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge be given to the band. The same regarding White Earth State Forest, per the story.
More recently, White Earth Nation successfully lobbied the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to close 5,600 acres of the Tamarac refuge to early teal season hunters – in the name of wild rice protection, in Year 3 of the experimental season.
In early August, the U.S. Forest Service issued a press release that it was “working collectively to implement the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation Restoration Act,” and that a “map of proposed parcels or transfer (to the Leech Lake band) on the Chippewa National Forest has been created and is available for public viewing.” That transfer would include nearly 12,000 acres of land. Leech Lake tribal chair Faron Jackson Sr. stated in the release that the transfer would be “the latest step forward in restoring a portion of the illegally transferred lands back to the Leech Lake Ojibwe.”
And again this year, as reported in last week’s edition of Outdoor News, there are restrictions, too, for early teal season hunters on the Leech Lake reservation where, coincidentally, the state pays in the neighborhood of $3 million annually (most recent data) for hunter and angler access to those reservation lands and waters. It’s noteworthy that the DNR did reduce (slightly) last year’s payment to reflect the exclusion of early teal season hunters on that reservation, according to Dave Olfelt, director of the DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division.
Early teal restrictions to protect rice and ricers? An early goose season has been ongoing for years without incident. My opinion: It’s not about the resource. And maybe you agree with the above government actions. Fair enough. But it’s also within reason to question those actions when they involve tribes. So, where are our public-lands advocates? Cue the crickets.