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Tribal elk hunt provokes criticism

State and local officials say the Chippewa Indians should have been more forthcoming about their plans to kill an elk in northern Wisconsin for a ceremonial function.

The matter became public this week when the DNR sent a letter to tribal officials, questioning the tribes' authority to hunt the elk without working out an agreement with the state first. But yesterday, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission confirmed it approved a permit to hunt a single elk.

Spokeswoman Sue Williams said the animal would be taken between now and Sept. 17, if it hasn't been done already. She called it part of creating a healthy eco-system, and the tribes are allowed to do it under their long-standing treaty rights.

But DNR attorney Quinn Williams said the matter quote, "just came out of left field," and it does not bode well for state-and-tribal communications. He said it's a "big deal" because it's the first time an elk would be hunted in Wisconsin.

The animals were re-introduced in the state in 1995, and about 185 elk reside in the Clam Lake area. A hunt would automatically be scheduled once the herd surpasses 200 animals, and that's expected next year.

Williams questioned the legality of the tribal hunt now. But he said the DNR has no plans to stop it or prosecute anyone. He said it would be hard to convince a judge that taking one elk would hurt the total population.

James Bolen of the Cable Area Chamber of Commerce says the elk are a major tourist attraction, and the tribes' unilateral hunting approach would not endear them to non Indians in the area. He said the Chippewa should have communicated better and explained what they're doing and why.